“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
The AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA have reached an interim agreement. Here’s what that means for TV and movies
Christmas has arrived early! The SAG-AFTRA strike is finally over after 118 days — making it the longest actor’s strike in history. After a summer spent picketing and pleading with studios, actors are back to work as of 12:01 am Thursday, November 9th. Here’s what that means for them, for us, and for film and TV in general.
When did the actor's strike end?
After two weeks of arduous negotiating, SAG-AFTRA voted unanimously to approve the new deal laid out by the studios. Details are emerging slowly about the exact terms of the deal but the headline is this: it’s looking good for actors, and great for movie-goers.
The SAG-AFTRA statement read:
“In a contract valued at over one billion dollars, we have achieved a deal of extraordinary scope that includes "above-pattern" minimum compensation increases, unprecedented provisions for consent and compensation that will protect members from the threat of AI, and for the first time establishes a streaming participation bonus. Our Pension & Health caps have been substantially raised, which will bring much-needed value to our plans. In addition, the deal includes numerous improvements for multiple categories including outsize compensation increases for background performers, and critical contract provisions protecting diverse communities.”
Items on the original list of grievances included: the use of AI, actors' compensation and residuals, healthcare and other union benefits, and more. We can assume that most of these were addressed in the deal. Like the WGA strike of the summer, which lasted 143 days, actors can hope to see some fundamental changes in the business — hopefully for the better.
A parade of press tours
One thing we’ve missed during the strike? Press tours. Martin Scorcese - coming off a recent wave of TikTok fame thanks to his daughter - carried out a heroic press tour of one for Killer of the Flower Moon and the few films that received waivers had to feed our thirst for magazine interviews and red carpets. The cast of Priscilla and The Iron Claw … we thank you for your service.
But now, everyone is back to work. After saying no to events, awards, and press junkets, actors have to get back in front of the cameras and beg us to go watch their movies — balance is restored.
Other films coming out soon might have to scramble to put together some sort of press. Titles we’re expecting by the end of the year include The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Trolls, Napoleon, Anyone But You, The Boys In The Boat, Saltburn, Eileen, Ferrari, The Color Purple, and more.
What movies and TV shows are filming now?
I’m sure many actors got calls summoning them back to the studio ASAP! Studios are prioritizing films with an original release date of early 2024, hoping to get them out in time. For example, It Ends With Us, the adaptation of the global Colleen Hoover hit is slated for February 2024. Can Blake Lively and Justin Baldoni pull it off? We’ll see.
Other high-priority films include a whole lotta sequels. Marvel Studios/Disney’s Deadpool 3 starring Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, directed by Shawn Levy was around half complete when the strike began. Paramount has been thinking about the Roman Empire as they anxiously await to finish Gladiator 2 over in Europe, while Warner Bros’ Tim Burton-directed Beetlejuice 2 just needs two days on set to wrap things up (allegedly). Clint Eastwood’s Juror No. 2 is another one hoping to wrap up soon with around a dozen days left. Then, there’s Sony’s Venom 3 for all the Spiderman/Tom Hardy lovers.
Needless to say, Hollywood’s gonna be busy.
What movies and TV shows will still be delayed?
Though the strike ending is great news for all, some films and TV shows have already been pushed back longer than we can take. Dune: Part Two won’t hit cinemas until March 2024, Zendaya’s Challengers with Mike Faist and Josh O'Connor won’t bless us until April 2026 and The White Lotus Season 3 won’t even be back until 2025. Other delays include Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Kraven the Hunter and the next Spider-Verse movie. Stranger Things has even said they’ll have to use technology to make the actors look younger in the final season, which we likely won’t see until 2027. Wake me up when that’s finally out.
“Obviously, we’d like to try to preserve a summer of films,” Bob Iger of Disney told CNBC earlier in the negotiation cycle. “The entire industry is focused on that. We don’t have much time to do that.”
Despite the delays, what SAG-AFTRA leaves us with is hope. The statement said: “We have arrived at a contract that will enable SAG-AFTRA members from every category to build sustainable careers. Many thousands of performers now and into the future will benefit from this work.”
Solidarity with all workers!