Harry Belafonte — singer perhaps best known for the Banana Boat song (“Day-o, me say daaaayyy-o”), actor and political and civil rights activist — was the subject of last night’s HBO documentary “Sing Your Song,” a biography detailing both his musical accomplishments and his activism.
Our TV critic Hank Stuever gave it high marks, saying:
Watching Belafonte involve himself — even now — in the lost ’60s art of consciousness-raising makes even more clear how disconnected and politically lobotomized today’s celebrities are. Although they are largely regarded as know-nothing liberals by their critics on the far right, our stars are mostly drawn to “safe” causes, to which they can glamorously ally themselves with a few carefully modulated statements and appearances... Harry Belafonte could still march circles around them.
Belafonte has always been known as a guy who doesn’t mince his words. He recently joined the conversation about the Republican primaries by telling Joy Behar that Herman Cain was a “bad apple” on her show.
It’s just Belafonte’s latest example of outspokenness. Here are a few of his boldest statements from this decade:
• “No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your revolution.” — Belafonte to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez
• “To that extent you can describe Osama bin Laden as a terrorist, a man who has been smitten by the worst aspects of civil villainy. I think one can say the same thing about Bush. He lied to the American people. It was a very severe lie that led to a war and in that war, just American deaths have already equaled the number of people who died on 9/11.” — IPS News
• “There’s an old saying in the days of slavery, there are those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master to exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. That gave you privilege. Colin Powell is permitted to come into the house of the master, as long as he will serve the master according to the master’s dictates. Now, when Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture.” — CNN via KFMB-AM.
• “We’ve come to this dark time in which the new Gestapo of Homeland Security lurks here, where citizens are having their rights suspended.” — AP
• “There’s certainly much more anger in rap than I’ve ever evidenced in coon songs. Coon songs seem more willing to placate. In the rap which we find degrading, you can hear the rage, you can hear the anger, you can hear the self-hate very clearly defined, in the absence of the same kind of tyranny that those who lived in the coon-song period faced. Those rappers are caught in a trick bag, because it’s a way to make unconscionable sums of money and a way to absent yourself from any sense of moral responsibility.” — New York Times