Directed by Suzanne Rostock, the film covers multiple aspects of his rich life – from childhood, to his early stage and screen work, to his marriages, to his political activism and tireless efforts in the civil rights movement.
His career milestones are given plenty of attention, including the distinction of his 1956 album “Calypso” being the first album in history to be certified gold, signifying sells of over 1 million copies. The album featured his iconic single “Banana Boat (Day-O).”
Belafonte also talks about the racism he encountered during his meteoric rise, recalling an incident in particular where he defied Las Vegas segregation laws by swimming in a whites-only pool.
Belafonte, 84, said he began warming to the idea of a documentary only after the death of his dear friend Marlon Brando, believing he had passed away with the world knowing little about his rabid activism outside of show-business.
“What he did with Native Americans, what he did in black movement, what he did in a lot of places went with him. And I felt it was somewhat unfortunate that he and others did not leave behind some documentation of what they had done, not only to inspire other artists to maybe pick up that same goal in their pursuits of art, but to also understand that we were more like our community than most people would have recognized or believed,” Belafonte told TV critics during a panel for the film in July.
Belafonte said he agreed to the film upon the “nagging” of his daughter Gina, who was constantly in his ear about documenting his story in his own words.
“My reluctance to delve into that was because I felt it was somewhat self-serving,” he said. “I always was suspicious of those of us who wrote books and felt we had stories to tell because the narcissism that marks our culture and our profession was rampant, and I didn’t want there to be misinterpretation. But on Marlon’s death, I saw opportunity to reach in to try to tell the story of Marlon and a number of other people who are in the film to help guide the viewer through some corners and twists and turns that may not be known to them.”
Other gems in the film (premiering Monday, Oct. 17 at 10 p.m.) include his role in organizing a star-studded 1965 concert to celebrate a civil rights march in Selma, spearheading the 1985 “We Are the World” recording to benefit famine relief in Africa, and coordinating Nelson Mandela’s first visit to the U.S. after being released from prison in 1990.