Harry Belafonte sat down with Roland Martin for an exclusive Washington Watch interview.
Mr. Belafonte discusses his friendship with Dorothy Dandrige and Hollywood’s treatment of the movie Red Tails.
MR. MARTIN: [The] “Red Tails” movie came out. Director George Lucas talked about going to the major studios in Hollywood and them saying, “We don’t know how to market a Black film.”
So, I’m reading My Song, and I’m reading – you talk about “Carmen Jones” and Hollywood literally saying, “Man, it’s a[n] all-Black cast. We don’t know what to do with this film.” How do you explain that? W- — how do you – what do you say when even today Hollywood says, “We don’t know how to market [a] nearly all-Black cast,” when 80 percent of the kids who buy hip-hop are White, when some of the biggest entertainers in the – in the – in the world are African-American? Is it [an] excuse?
MR. BELAFONTE: It’s not just an excuse; it’s a cruel lie. What they’re saying to you is, “We do not think we’re gonna get as much money in return for our investment as we would get if we took that same investment and invested it in something that is mindless.”
What is the cost of mindlessness in your community worth to you, Mr. Studio, Mr. Banker?” Because every time we have campaigned for a picture that is Black, if you look at the long haul, it pays off. “Carmen Jones” was the biggest thing in its day. I can’t say that “Island in the Sun” was, quote-unquote, a “Black movie,” but its theme had to do with Black issues – and it was the big picture of its time and in its day.
MR. MARTIN: Dorothy Dandridge.
MR. BELAFONTE: I don’t think a Black woman has ever paid as great a price for her Blackness than did Dorothy Dandridge, because the very thing that got her attention – which was her Blackness, her inordinate beauty and her – and her talent – turned out to be the very thing that was her undoing, because there was not a system in place to take her on to the next logical extension of her – of a – of a successful career. She couldn’t find enough leading men. You know, when it came time for her next movie, she had a choice of two people that could be with her constantly from a natural selective process. And it was either me or Sidney. And once she played us out, every other picture meant that she’d have to find new people. That meant she would have to turn to Marlon –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. BELAFONTE: — and Clark Gable and Paul Newman and anybody else who was available. But Hollywood just wouldn’t go that route.
MR. BELAFONTE: So, when she lost a – a – a – a choice of leading me – and leading women –
MR. MARTIN: Um-hum?
MR. BELAFONTE: — with which to play opposite, she – her turf r- — ran barren, and I think that fact crushed her. 00:25:45
MR. MARTIN: Something tells me in the book, though, that Harry Belafonte said, “Boy, if I coulda been her lead man in private, at home” – because it was so funny you writing about just that – that relationship there, when you were like, “Okay. This is how far this [is?] gon’ go, doggone it.” [Chuckles.]
MR. BELAFONTE: If I wanted to be her leading man in private, I would’ve been her leading man –
MR. MARTIN: [Laughs.]
MR. BELAFONTE: — in private.
MR. MARTIN: [Continues to laugh.] But it was pretty funny in[?] the –
MR. BELAFONTE: Both she –
MR. MARTIN: — book, though.
MR. BELAFONTE: — and I chose to have another style –
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
MR. BELAFONTE: — and to see life in another way. Yes, we were attracted to one another; but we didn’t act on it, because it was imprudent – for she or I [sic] – to have gotten involved romantically at that time in our lives. 00:26:28