sat 21/09/2019

Sing Your Song | reviews, news & interviews

Sing Your Song

Sing Your Song

Harry Belafonte documentary sidesteps the man to focus on the causes he pursued

Harry Belafonte in 'Sing Your Song': looking for issues

Sing Your Song isn’t a showbiz biopic of the actor and singer, it’s a history lesson that revolves around Harry Belafonte and his tireless, long-term espousal of civil rights and socio-political causes. Belafonte is an incredibly important figure, a man whose place in history is assured. What’s less certain is who he actually is. “He took all our struggles and made them his own,” says Miriam Makeba. Sing Your Song suggests that the price Belafonte paid for making that choice is to be defined by the issues he pursues. There is no man any more, just the causes.

With his daughter Gina Belafonte as one of the film’s producers, Sing Your Song was never going to be overly probing or even critical. Such powerful raw material meant that shouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, the problem is that there’s no sense of the man, his internal life. He is a force for good and the words are often enough, but its lack of inquisitiveness means this documentary short changes both the audience and Belafonte himself.

Once the Sixties are dealt with, 'Sing Your Song' becomes a numbing list of the causes Belafonte has embraced

It begins with a collage of the current world’s ills. These are the things which feed Belafonte. “There’s a lot of people out here who are pissed off,” he declares. One of his children said that when he was at home, he wasn’t at home. The person was not present. The causes consumed him. He's in his eighties and they still do.

Inspired by theatre, he became an actor and then a singer. Within 10 minutes of Sing Your Song beginning, Belafonte has become established and is being paid tribute to by Paul Robeson. At the beginning of the film he’s walking around the now-empty New York apartment he lived in a small child. His family background is hardly addressed.

Once the doors began opening he attended acting classes alongside Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis and Walther Matthau. He soon won a Tony award. Touring brought him face-to-face with segregation and that fact the Broadway and Greenwich Village stood apart from America’s southern states. He’d found his cause. Belafonte’s first marriage fell apart, but he later remarried. His second wife Julie Robinson "came to the table fully political”. The public and private faces were seemingly indivisible. Although his current wife, his third, is seen in the film she was not heard. His first two wives were interviewed.

Sing Your Song Harry Belafonte John F KennedyAs the first singer to sell a million albums his name was powerful, and he used it to shine a light on injustice and draw others into the cause. He came into the orbit of Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy (pictured right: Belafonte with his second wife Julie Robinson and JFK). He applied pressure to the White House. In return, the FBI tarred him with the commie brush, and monitored him and his family – his psychiatrist directed him towards her husband Jay Richard Kennedy, who became his manager. It wasn't his real name. He was an FBI informant.

After the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Belafonte was drawn towards more than US civil rights. Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged him to take an interest in Africa. Once the Sixties are dealt with, Sing Your Song becomes a list of the things he embraced: native American rights, nuclear issues, hunger in Ethiopia (he was instrumental in getting “We are the World” off the ground), gangs in Los Angeles, Haiti. Currently, he's concerned with the disproportionate amount of young people in America’s jails. The list is numbing.

Belafonte is inspirational, a force for good and justice in a world without certainty. But the picture is more complex than what's seen here. Sing Your Song doesn’t mention his description of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as the “house slaves” of the George W. Bush administration. President Barack Obama doesn’t get a look in, although his father (Barack Obama Sr) is mentioned as he came to America through a Belafonte-sponsored scholarship.

In not revealing who he is, the frustrating Sing Your Song takes the easy path. Something Belafonte himself has never done.

  • Sing Your Song is in cinemas from Friday

Watch the trailer for Sing Your Song

 

The film short changes both the audience and Belafonte himself

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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