Our first film screening of 2012 was held in conjunction with the Phoenix Cinema. We screened the film ‘Song of Freedom’ on Sunday 15th January 2012. An amazing 154 people attended the screening and it was good to see a mixed crowd and young people with their parents in the audience.
Song of Freedom (1936) was described by its star, American actor Paul Robeson, as the first “to give a true picture of many aspects of the life of the coloured man in the west.” Robeson shines as London-born docker John Zinga, who becomes a world famous opera singer, then discovers he is descended from a West African tribe. Having spent his life dreaming of visiting Africa, he travels to the island to meet his people, who treat him with hostility. Can he get them to trust him?
In spite of its improbable plot and stereotypical depiction of Africans which we found hilarious, Song of Freedom is a landmark film within the history of British cinema. It acknowledges the Black presence in 1930s England, and it shows that it was possible for a black man to be born in Britain. In addition, John and his wife Ruth played by Elizabeth Welch, have a normal relationship and their on screen kiss was the first time a black couple kissed on screen. Ruth is also portrayed as a loving and intelligent wife, whilst American films at this time were depicting black women as caricatured, desexualised mammies or maids.
Following the screening, we welcomed historian of Black British Film, Stephen Bourne, for a discussion about this film. The discussion was very interesting and intelligent were asked by both the adults and the children who attended.
I would like to thank Eleanor Sier and the Phoenix Cinema family for organising this screening.
By Charmaine Simpson