87 Year Old Harry Belafonte honored by Academy for Years of Humanitarian Work
By Tiara Kj Williams
At age 87, Harry Belafonte has had quite the career. Once called “The King of Calypso”, he popularized the Caribbean music genre throughout the 1950’s. Besides music, he also tried his hand in acting and starred in several films. However, in addition to his music and acting career, Belafonte has also done incredible humanitarian work.
He was a big supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, and was close to Martin Luther King Jr. His other humanitarian work includes being an advocate for USA for Africa, and a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador- which he was been since the 1980’s.
This past week, Belafonte was given a prestigious award for all of his humanitarian work throughout the years. He was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award during the Academy’s Governor Awards. According to the official Oscars website, the award is “given to an individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.” Previous winners of the award include Oprah Winfrey, Audrey Hepburn and Frank Sinatra.
Variety reports about Belafonte’s speech that evening:
Belafonte gave one of the all-time great acceptance speeches at the Governors Awards, citing Hollywood’s often-shameful power to influence attitudes, and challenging the heavy-hitters in the room to instead create works that allow global audiences “to see the better side of who we are as a species.”
He reminded the crowd about “Birth of a Nation,” the early “Tarzan” films (depicting “inept, ignorant Africans”) and “Song of the South,” as well as the industry’s cowardice during the McCarthy hearings. He also referred to the industry’s decades-long treatment of Native Americans in films, “and at the moment, Arabs aren’t looking so good.” The industry doesn’t like trouble-makers and “on occasion, I have been one of its targets.”
But he said that “today’s harvest of films yields sweeter fruit,” citing “Schindler’s List,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “12 Years a Slave” as examples. He also thanked such inspirations as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Eleanor Roosevelt and Paul Robeson, quoting the latter’s statement that “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth” as well as the radical voice of civilization.