| Sing Your Song Cinema Review
‘”Excuse Me Mr.”’ Ben Harper’s eloquent song of protest gently strummed on steel stringed guitar, are the words the lips are compelled to mouth after experiencing this cinematic moment. Injustices petty and terrible perpetrated supposedly in the name of ‘Man’ are disavowed with a fierce simplicity when Harper sings ‘”… I’m taking the Mr from out in front of your name, ‘cause it’s a Mr like you, that puts the rest of us to shame…”’ Mr. Harry Belafonte, the biographical subject of this film, is indisputably not that kind of Mister.
The opening montage’s jump cuts interwoven with Belafonte in voiceover, eloquent and robust, vividly sets the fiery undertone of the film. This Ellingtonian fanfare makes way for the virtuosity of the soloist, as we discover that from serving in the Second World War, encountering the American Negro Theatre, through to being the first ever million selling album artist, Belafonte was ever the revolutionary. Harry never forgot that he was part of a great collective.
Populist accolades accumulate but Belafonte’s real success is that of humane being. Modestly intrepid, he was the first African-American producer in US television and first many times over in challenging myriad racial barriers cultural and social in America. It is in these revelatory moments that the film is at its most potent as portrait and signifier, where in an oblique seduction the realisation occurs that there is no divergence between Belafonte (or us) as artist or activist.
This symbiotic expressionism makes ‘Sing Your Song’ contemporaneous. Belafonte has been the enemy of nostalgia, ever progressive, ever attuned to social injustice internationally and domestically. It is both saddening and inspiring to see him working with young people today to fix the things he thought had been resolved 50 years ago.
Harry says: “I just can’t let them win…” - those sinister misters, those that promulgate racism, criminalise poverty and propagate incarceration as the new slavery. Those so dedicated to injustice that they would have so Statesmanlike a man remain a janitor’s assistant. It’s a Mr like Belafonte that puts the rest of us shame…
So ‘Excuse me Mr.’…