Harry Belafonte has lived and continues to live a truly remarkable life. Set aside his amazingly successful career in music being the first artist to sell 1million copies of a single album, Belafonte is so much more. He has been fighting the battle for equal rights for years in America and has fought for social justice around the world. He has tirelessly contributed and led the civil rights movement alongside Martin Luther King Jr. but still finds time today in his 85th year to fight the new battles African-Americans face today. He is a tireless protestor who never ceases to find new injustices to fight, a kind of calypso singing superman. This makes the realisation that Belafonte has to make the film himself all the more staggering.
That fact that Belafonte has to sing his own song removes much of the force and credibility of this documentary. Director Susanne Rostock has constructed a decent enough documentary and of course Belafonte is astounding but, during his own narration ,begins to dawn the feeling that it should be someone else declaring that “this song touched the heart and mind of America”. Hearing Belafonte describe himself as ‘not normal’ and having every thought well planned and crafted undermines the great things he has accomplished. The fact that the film does not completely collapse is testament to Belafonte’s fire. The rage evident as he discusses past discriminations he fought is heart breaking, he feels the pain of the injustice he fights.
The film is created in a Belafonte centred world wherein he skips over the two divorces he has had and prefers to discuss the films he has made. HarBel Productions was an avenue for Belafonte to unleash his fiery commentary, his description of this is honest and moving but there is still the nagging need for an objective viewpoint. This would have made him appear as a human being; instead he is superhuman, fighting crime with no inconsistencies and especially no faults.
This said, the moments of true beauty in the film are many. A Story of fans going to jail for listening to his record in South Africa is moving and a meeting with an inmate who raps for him is exquisitely engaging. Belafonte is moved to tears by the rap. These instances, despite being self narrated are what make Belafonte’s Sing Your Song impossible to dismiss. The true crime here is that no one has done it for him. Such a life should have been documented before and with much more attention paid to it. Instead what we are left is a very strange hybrid between a film about his politics and activist agenda and documentary about his life. It is possible Belafonte is simply using this film to bring his new causes to the fore. If it is, I for one would not criticise him for it.