Monday, November 10, 2014 6:51 pm
Octogenarian actor and singer, Harry Belafonte, accepting a top Hollywood human rights award, asked fellow artists and the entertainment industry to use their powerful platform to show the better side of humanity.
Before a star-studded audience and next to a long-time friend, actor Sidney Poitier, the 87-year-old Belafonte received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the weekend in Hollywood, California.
The award was an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for his lifelong fight for civil rights and humanitarian causes.
Honorary Oscars were also bestowed upon three prolific artists and creators who deeply influenced Hollywood.
Irish actress Maureen O’Hara, who appeared on stage at 94, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, 73, and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, 83 were also honoured.
The Academy’s Governors Awards gala has become the kick-off to the film awards season, bringing some of the most powerful people in Hollywood under the same roof.
“To be rewarded by my peers for my work, human rights, civil rights, peace, let me put it this way: It powerfully mutes the enemy’s thunder,” said Belafonte.
He called artists “the relevant voice of civilization” and hoped they would help the world “see the better side of who and what we are as a species”.
The Harlem-born Belafonte started out his speech remembering how Hollywood films like “Tarzan” and “Song of the South” fostered the racial divide in America.
He added that the development gave him an “early stimulus to the beginning of my rebellion”.
“Today’s cultural harvest yields a sweeter fruit,” he noted, pointing to films like the gay love story “Brokeback Mountain” and Oscar best picture “12 Years a Slave.”
“All of this is happening at the dawning of technological creations that will give artists boundless regions of possibilities to give us deeper insights into the human existence,” Belafonte added.
Belafonte was perhaps best known as a calypso singer, but as an actor he starred in ground-breaking films like “Carmen Jones” and pushed to make movies from the black perspective.
He also worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement.
He also fought against AIDS in Africa; volunteered as a UN goodwill ambassador for decades, and now works on gang violence in American cities.
“He has been a warrior on the good side of the battlefield of social justice,” said actress and fellow activist,, Susan Sarandon, who presented him with the Oscar.