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Tony Benn ...
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Stephen Bourne ...
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Himself / Narrator (voice)
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Herself
Martin Duberman ...
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Herself / Desdemona in 'Othello' (voice)
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Herself
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Eslanda Robeson (voice)
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Paul Robeson Jr. ...
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24 February 1999 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

 
Intelligent and thorough
26 April 2015 | by (US) – See all my reviews

Robeson was an amazing renaissance man who left his indelible mark on not only on U.S. film, theater and music (his singing voice is one of the most powerful and resonant I have ever heard), but also on U.S. politics and the African-American struggle in the middle of the 20th century. (Not to mention he was also a lawyer and world class athlete!)

The film doesn't shy away from Robeson''s dark sides, and miss-steps (for example, choices of film roles that surprisingly sometimes fed into black stereotypes) -- but in the end tells the story of a true tragic hero. A great artist who tried to lift his race onto his shoulders, and ended up blacklisted and hardly able to work in his own country, while being blocked from traveling abroad.

After scaling the heights in the 1930s, Robeson's career was doomed in the post WWII communist paranoia of the 40s and 50s when he expressed admiration for the way the Soviet Union treated him as a visiting black man, and advocated rapprochement nuclear disarmament and world peace instead of confrontation with the Soviets. One can argue whether he was correct about the Russians, but his miss-trust of the U.S. certainly can be understood in the light of rampant Jim Crowe racism oppressing his people, and the way Robeson himself was turned on when he dared speak out. His passport stripped, the government wouldn't even let this international star leave to earn a living elsewhere even as it stopped him from working here.

The only thing lacking for me was a some of the emotion behind this great and sad life. By the end there I found myself choked up (it would be almost impossible not to be moved by some of what Robeson went through, and his own growth through it all) but the film can feel a bit academic at moments. However, that's a small flaw measured against its many accomplishments.

This would be a good film for young people, who likely sadly know little if anything about Robeson -- one of the most important and influential U.S, artists of the 20th century.


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