How Harry Belafonte Improved the World Through His Remarkable Gifts

Remembering The Iconic Luminary’s Long and Inspiring Life (1927–2023)

Robin A Henderson

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The actor Harry Belafonte poses in front of a vintage recording device.
Image: Turner Classic Movies

On April 25th, we mourned the loss of a rare and precious soul.

Notoriety like his only comes along once in a hundred years, leaving an unforgettable mark felt by people from all over.

A legendary figure whose light burned bright in Hollywood and whose humanitarianism stretched across the globe:

The late, great Harry Belafonte.

It’s hard for me to express what Belafonte meant to me, how he inspired my passion for Black cinema, and why he is so valued by so many.

I grew up in the 1970s when Hollywood experienced its second golden age of macho blonde straight white men with rugged beards and winning smiles.

Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man) exhibited extraordinary strength on TV, and Robert Redford (The Sting) dazzled us with his undeniable charm on the silver screen.

Belafonte, however, was unlike anything Hollywood had seen before. He regaled us just as much as they did, but his performances represented a fresh and electrifying change.

Actors Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge ride in a Jeep. It’s a photo of the movie Carmen Jones.
Image: 20th Century Fox

Barrier-Breaking Performances

As Black parents with impressionable daughters, my mom and dad didn’t subscribe to the homogenized view of reverence.

In my household, two men in Hollywood exemplified the qualities of nobility and grace, defining what it means to be honorable Black men: Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.

Poitier became a formidable leading man, and Belafonte broke barriers in and outside of Hollywood.

Belafonte began his film career in Gerald Mayer’s 1953 film Bright Road, about a school teacher and a principal who refuse to give up on a troubled student.

Then, in 1954, Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones gave him a chance to flex his immeasurable talents and prove to Hollywood that he was a capable leading man.

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Robin A Henderson

I write about inclusive storytelling in Hollywood and diverse representation in wellness.