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Harry Belafonte, at 85, is as active and activist as ever. At the Locarno Film Festival, despite walking with a stick, he couldn’t be kept from introducing the films the festival screened in his honor, especially Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones, which he said “put me most on the map of the world.” Belafonte at one point called himself “the greatest actor in the world who always pretended to be a singer.“
The festival’s career honor is only his second-ever acting award, so Belafonte said he regarded it as a sign of “global recognition” of his political activism, which was evident as he used the occasion to take a stand against unbridled capitalism and talk about his new film projects, one of them about the Arab Spring.
The Hollywood Reporter talked with Belafonte about his activism, his views on U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney and what he sees as this age’s biggest enemy.
The Hollywood Reporter: Your acting career is less known than your singing career. What does an Honor Award from a film festival mean to you?
Harry Belafonte: Such awards, coming from culture and societies where I do not linger, are a validation that there was a global receptivity to the fact that I have taken a stand against war, taken a stand against racism, sexism and so on, throughout the years. While at home some people would want to crucify me because of my political position, I am also being honored for what I do, and that validation is extremely important.
THR: Has the world changed for activists like you?
Belafonte: Definitely. Back then, the enemies were very clear, very precise. It is easy to fight oppression if it comes in [the form of] a swastika and a boot, and as a dictator, and you can see it and feel it and touch it. It is easy when there is a sign that says “No N—–s“ or “No Jews.“ Where it becomes the most insidious is when it buries itself and you can no longer touch it but can taste that yet it is there, fully blown, doing insane mischief. That is why I think the period now is the most challenging I’ve ever lived in. The power in many societies has become almost absolute. Those who have the power in the free-enterprise system start to crush societies and create wars that are unholy. What we did during the Bush period, what we still continue to do, even with Barack Obama, is the continuency of not changing the paradigm, of not changing the view. We still have laws that encourage torture; we did not change Guantanamo; we have laws that allow the police to arrest you at any time, not having to tell you why, and take you wherever they want. This kind of capitalism is taking us to the doorstep of [a] Fourth Reich, I think.
THR: Would you want Mitt Romney to become the next U.S. president?
Belafonte: Only if I would like to see the end of civilization. No, absolutely not. Mitt Romney is not my cup of tea at all.
THR: Can you pin down what the enemy is nowadays?
Belafonte: Unbridled capitalism. The concentration of money in the hands of a very small group is the most dangerous thing that has ever happened to civilization. We are facing an oligarchy of force. Just look at who controls the press. We all witnessed how money and power squeezed out all essense of Rupert Murdoch and [Silvio] Berlusconi. Thank God for social media, which aids transparency. But even that becomes more and more restricted now, with companies like Facebook buying up all the roots of this technology. But I am currently involved with two documentaries, one Leadbelly: Legend, Life, Legacy and the other Another Night in the Free World, which I am shooting now for about five months. It is globally looking at the youth movement during the the Arab Spring, looking at what happened in Cairo and Tunisia and now in Syria.
THR: Back to the occasion of the award for your acting career. Are you happy with the image of members of minorities in Hollywood today?
Belafonte: Not at all. They have not told the history of our people, nothing of who we are. We are still looking. We are not determinated. We are not driven by some technology that says you can kill Afghans, the Iraqis or the Spanish. It is all — excuse my French — shit. It is sad. And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.
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