Interview with Actor, Activist Harry Belafonte

Article excerpt

As a kid, Harry Belafonte was inspired by the Charlie Chaplin films that lampooned the industrial revolution and the Nazis. His appreciation for such films as "The Great Dictator" begat the inspiration he got from Sean O'Casey, Arthur Miller, Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, and Clifford Odets. "All of these men are artists who had social and political conscience in everything they did," the entertainer said recently. They knew their plays, books, and movies had power and could "lead people to a vision and a truth," Belafonte said during a break from rehearsing at a Harlem theater. That's why he's always felt you can't separate social reality from art. It also helps explain why he's worked so hard for certain social and political causes over the years: marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to advance civil rights, working with Nelson Mandela to overturn apartheid, helping to organize the "We Are the World" effort for starving Africans and "Hands Across America" for the hungry here. In 1960, President Kennedy named him a cultural adviser to the Peace Corps, and he's served as a UN goodwill ambassador since 1987. …