This past February, I used a photo of a stamp with the face of Paul Robeson as my “Profile Photo” on Facebook. Although his name is featured on the stamp, a few folks asked me who he was. I had just took it for granted that most people knew him or were aware. Growing up, I can remember seeing documentaries about him and hearing his name mentioned in multiple circles. For years, randomly in a particular setting, one might sing the words “Ol’ man river…” as a means of setting an oppressive tone for the conversation.
Robeson originally sang the song in the stage play “Show Boat” and the subsequent film of the same name. Around 1938, and through to the end of his career, Robeson would change a few of the lyrics of “Ol’ Man River” when singing it at recitals, but not at actual stage performances of “Show Boat,” or in the film version.
Except for the change of the word “ni**ers” to “darkies,” the lyrics of the song as Robeson performed it in the 1936 film and the show, remain exactly as Oscar Hammerstein II originally wrote them in 1927. However, after 1938, Robeson recorded the song only with the lyrics that he used in his concerts. For the longest time, I would hear about his movie “The Emperor Jones” and his achievements in football. There are three theaters that have been named after the man. Two in the state of New York, one in Buffalo, the other in Brooklyn; and one in Atlanta, Georgia.
So at what place in time did a level of recognition for him start to subside? His name was one that was used as a reference for those up and coming, to aspire to be like in so many facets of life. Paul Robeson was a man that people referred to as a hero, a role model — one that I still do.
While surfing the net this morning, I came across information about a new film by Paul Haggis. Haggis is the writer and director of the Oscar Award winning movie “Crash” that featured an ensemble cast in a brilliant depiction of the human condition and racism in this latter day. It starred Terrence Howard, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Loretta Devine, Sandra Bullock, Larenz Tate, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser and Keith David. His new film “Third Person” is a love story about three couples that also features an ensemble cast, including James Franco, Mila Kunis, Kim Basinger, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, Maria Bello and David Harewood. David Harewood is the star of “Robeson.” The film is expected to cover all the accomplishments of this great American, whose notably the most talented all-round African-American in history. A graduate of Rutgers and Columbia Universities, Robeson was a professional football player, a lawyer, actor, singer, an orator, as well as a political & civil rights activist. His name was internationally known as a star, and for his tireless efforts for human rights.
Ironically, Harewood is a British actor that was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2012 Queen’s New Years Honours List for his services to Drama. Appearing on UK television since the early 90s, he’s one of the stars of the hit TV series “Homeland.” Among his earlier silver screen credits are the films “The Merchant of Venice”, “Blood Diamond” and “The Hot Potato.”
Robeson was a Shakespearean actor, so being depicted by a British thespian is absolutely fitting. Directed by Darrell Roodt, “Robeson” also stars Oscar Award winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. as W.E.B. Dubois. Roodt is known for his films “Sarafina,” which starred Whoopi Goldberg; “Cry, The Beloved Country,” that starred James Earl Jones; and “Winnie,” which features Oscar Nominee Terrence Howard and Oscar Award winning actress Jennifer Hudson. Gossett is famous for his role as the no-nonsense drill sergeant, opposite Richard Gere in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” among a multitude of film credits. Gossett actually has over ten films in varying aspects of production as we speak, including two in which he’ll co-star with fellow veteran actor James Cann.
There are so many films I would love to see come to light about figures throughout history that affected the way things are today for the better. Paul Robeson is unquestionably one of these people. Currently in production, it’s not certain as to when this movie is set to hit theaters.
for the love of culture and the preservation of all that’s FUNKY