You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Governors Award Recipient Harry Belafonte: ‘We Have to Work Harder’

Harry Belafonte, who will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at Saturday’s Governors Awards, calls it a “validation” to receive recognition from “an institution that has been so dominant in American culture,” but hastens to add that Hollywood has not always lived up to some of its highest ideals.

“It has been my experience that Hollywood is probably not the best barometer we have for defining the mood of the nation,” Belafonte tells Variety. “At times it will give you films that are quite militant. And then there are other times when what they put out is so subversive of the truth. Look at the McCarthy period: The industry played that game, but at the same time it was struggling with trying to do the right thing. In many instances, you had people who stood up to the blacklist and spoke out, or refused to name names and turn in their colleagues. Hollywood punished some, but many got through. And those who got through made a huge difference in the kind of films that the industry was able to make.

The performer has acted in such groundbreaking films as Otto Preminger’s “Carmen Jones” and “Island in the Sun” (directed by Robert Rossen, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck) in the 1950s, is known for more than his acting. He became synonymous with calypso music, but he is noted as much for his philanthropy and political activism as much as anything.

Popular on Variety

“Hollywood represents a certain ambivalence in American culture,” Belafonte continues. “On the one hand, it can be most punitive in its opinions and preferences, and at the same time it can be most rewarding in the way it praises those doing films that are socially relevant. ‘Schindler’s List,’ ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ ‘12 Years a Slave,’ films like that are outstanding for the way they stepped into a space that needed to have a spotlight on it. So the praise and the criticism can go both ways.

“I don’t think Hollywood has made too many films like ‘12 Years a Slave’ which go into the very marrow of our troubles. With all these (resources), we should have been far more noble in our attempts to speak out and put a light on the inequities of our society, globally. I think we’re on the way to that, but we have to work harder. We have to resist those who tell you if you’ve got a message, send it through Western Union, don’t come to the arts.”

More Film

  • Li Shaohong

    Li Shaohong Revisits Macao and Chinese War Films

    Fifth generation director Li Shaohong’s career has spanned the entire length of the Chinese film market’s rise, from its days as a state-run industry churning out nothing but social realist films to its current stage of supporting ever more sophisticated and lucrative blockbusters and genre films. The current head of the China Film Directors’ Guild, [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Johnny Ma on the Dynamics of New Era Film Production in China

    Shanghai-born Canadian filmmaker Johnny Ma says he’d planned to make three films in China before moving on to other things, but the current state of the Chinese industry has “forced his hand” and convinced him to move on early after two. Currently living in Mexico, his next project is actually in TV: a pilot for [...]

  • 'Wonder Woman 1984' Trailer: Gal Gadot

    'Wonder Woman 1984' Trailer: Gal Gadot Returns With Pedro Pascal, Kristen Wiig

    “Wonder Woman 1984” dropped its first trailer on Sunday, with Gal Gadot returning as the titular Amazonian goddess. The film is set, of course, in the 1980s in America, decades after the first film’s events. Kristen Wiig is playing Wonder Woman’s infamous comic-book nemesis Cheetah, while Chris Pine is returning for the sequel. It’s unclear, [...]

  • Over the Sea

    Macao Film Review: 'Over the Sea'

    The beginning is a fairy tale, or a nursery rhyme. A woman nurses her squalling baby in a house by an orchard near the sea. Sunlight slants in through the open windows, the mother hums a lullaby, and then brings her son outside and places him in a cot suspended from the apple-laden branches of [...]

  • CCA Film Nominations

    Critics' Choice: 'The Irishman,' 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Lead Movie Nominations

    “The Irishman” has picked up the most film nominations for the 35th annual Critics’ Choice Awards. The Martin Scorsese gangster drama goes into the awards show with 14 noms, including best picture, director, acting ensemble as well as best actor (Robert De Niro) and supporting actor (Al Pacino and Joe Pesci), the Critics’ Choice Association [...]

  • Parasite

    'Parasite' Named Best Film of 2019 by L.A. Film Critics Association

    Hollywood’s hometown critics clearly aren’t afraid of subtitles. Members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. met Sunday to vote on the year’s best cinema accomplishments. South Korean thriller “Parasite” fared the best, taking not only best picture, but also the group’s director prize for Bong Joon Ho and supporting actor for Song Kang Ho. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content