A small group attended the screening of ‘Sing Your Song’ at BFI Southbank. I have watched a number of documentaries over the past year and this documentary was an inspiration to me.
Wonderfully archived, and told with a remarkable sense of intimacy, visual style and musical panache, Sing Your Song surveys the life and times of singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte. From his rise to fame as a singer and his experiences touring a segregated country, to his provocative crossover into Hollywood, Belafonte’s groundbreaking career personifies the American civil rights movement and impacted many other social-justice movements. The documentary reveals Belafonte as a tenacious hands-on activist, who worked intimately with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and inspired us all to action.
Before this documentary, I knew a little about Harry Belafonte’s journey and activism but now I know more and have the upmost respect for his struggle and determination that continues to this day. I was not aware of the impact giants such as Paul Robeson had on his life, encouraging him to use his art as a form of resistance. I was aware of his involvement in the Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King but was unaware of just how his acting and singing broke barriers of racial discrimination. He performed in an inter-racial group in which Americans were slow to accept and he helped to integrate the swimming pools at hotels.
Like other artists and activists, he was the target of FBI, which led to the demise of his first marriage. He was responsible for introducing the late great Miriam Makeba to the US and they both recorded an album together and worked together to raise the awareness about the horrors of the apartheid regime in South Africa. I was inspired by the fact that he combined passion for singing and acting with his passion for activism which is one of the things that I try to do with my passion for Black History. However, trying to juggle his activism with family life was a struggle and resulted in the breaking up of his marriages and feelings of abandonment with his children who did not get to see him as often as they would like. This was a wakeup call to me as it is important that you find a balance between the work that you do and not forget those closest around you (friends and family).
The tragic scenes of the famine in Ethiopia in 1984 were particularly uncomfortable and made me get quite emotional as these scenes continue to this day and there is NO reason for people to be starving in this world.
Harry Belafonte continues to campaign for change and the scene in the documentary where he is upset by the pictures of a 5 year old being arrested by police for having a tantrum were shocking to see by my group. I was aware of this story when it came out and it made me more determined achieve my goals. He called a meeting of the elders in the community to take action first and then organised a meeting with young people. After the screening, I asked which Black leaders could we call upon in the UK to come together to address the social ills that affect our young people today? I believe that we do not have a visual Black leadership in the UK so this would be difficult. Harry Belafonte emphasized that we need to get young people involved in movement building so that the youth have a voice.
I would recommend that everyone get a copy of the documentary which is available from Amazon.com and show this to everyone young and old.
Thank you David Somerset and the African Caribbean Consultative Group for putting on these screenings under the African Odysseys Film Programme.