At last night’s Governors Awards, singer, actor, and activist Harry Belafonte received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Born in 1927, Belafonte reflected on the power of cinema to foment racial tensions and embed deep insecurities within the black community, from D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation to Tarzan, “this white liberator.”
The performing arts, he said, “was an early stimulus to the beginning of my rebellion.” Belafonte, who was a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr., also invited his friend and fellow legend Sidney Poitier to the stage and commended him for helping to “redirect the ship of racial hatred in American culture.” At 87 years old, Belafonte has lived a full life. “I really wish I could be around for the rest of this century, to see what Hollywood does with the rest of the century,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, it could be civilization’s game changer.”
Chris Rock and Susan Sarandon also introduced Belafonte. Sarandon called him the “ultimate example of a great artist and a lifelong social activist,” and Rock said, “I would not be here today if it were not for Harry Belafonte.”
We’d also like to note that with this honorary Oscar, Harry Belafonte is also part of an elite club of EGOT winners.