September 24th, 2012 | Comments Off
Released on DVD today, Sing Your Song charts the life and accomplishments of the world-renowned entertainer Harry Belafonte. With his charismatic and incredibly likable character clear throughout the film, this biographical documentary reveals his true passion is not just singing and acting but fighting injustice and creating awareness for the civil rights movement, on which he had great impact.
Born in the rough neighbourhood of Harlem in New York, Belafonte was briefly sent to live with family in Jamaica when he was young, a move that later proved to be hugely influential in the folk and calypso songs he would go on to perform. Once he returned to America, the young man served in the Navy during World War II and got himself a job as a janitor’s assistant when he came out. Up to that point Belafonte had never dreamed of becoming a singer but when he received two free tickets to see The American Negro theatre perform he fell in love with the world of arts.
His breakthrough didn’t take long and soon he travelled from theatre to theatre, from town to town. It was then, when he was on tour, that he experienced the extremeness of segregation. It made no difference that he was the headlining act, it made no difference that people were shouting his name, he was still a black man. His activism, rooted in his own experience, saw to it that he developed a close relationship with Martin Luther King Jr., which increased as his work for the civil rights movement intensified.
What good is a conscience if it’s not awakened? – Harry Belafonte
As can be expected in a profiling documentary, archive footage plays an important role. There is footage of Belafonte’s own performances but also some shocking clips which highlight the true plight of the civil rights movement. The impact of these latter is amplified when the different types of injustices are contrasted by the lyrics of Belafonte’s songs.
The use of interviews with Belafonte and his close family (his wife, ex-wife and children) add a personal dimension to the film and his personal involvement makes this a truly moving and inspirational documentary. The touching interviews with his children add depth to the portrait of his life and celebration of his achievements.
It is impossible to come away from this thought provoking film uninspired by Belafonte’s unwavering optimism and dedication to equality. As well as being a great entertainer he continues his work throughout many different communities, choosing not to retire, as he says there is still too much to do. This documentary is moving, insightful, and packed full of great songs, personal interviews, and archive footage. All of which make the film more a important cultural document than a mere profile.
The DVD extras include the theatrical trailer and a short film on The Forgiveness Project. This is a UK based charity that uses storytelling to explore forgiveness and aims to provide tools to facilitate conflict resolution and behavioural changes.
Written by Nicola Lampard
Nicola graduated from Brunel University with a BSc in Sociology and Media and is now currently studying for a MSc at LSE in Society and Culture, while working in the UK film industry. The Up Series (beginning with 7up) sparked her interest in documentaries, particularly those with a social and cultural themes. She is enthusiastic about documentaries because of their capacity to inform and incite change, as seen from The Thin Blue Line and, more recently, Josh Fox’s Gasland.
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