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Harry Belafonte on Screen: Top 5 Film & Television Roles

The pioneering entertainer and activist passed away this week but left an indelible mark.

Harry Belafonte, a Caribbean-American singer, actor, and activist, left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry with his exceptional talent and unwavering commitment to social justice. Belafonte rose to fame with his third studio album, Calypso, which became a record-breaking success and solidified his status as one of the most successful Caribbean-American entertainers of his time.

In addition to his music career, Belafonte also made a name for himself in Hollywood, starring in various films and television shows throughout his illustrious career. Belafonte's achievements in the entertainment industry are numerous, but his activism is equally impressive. He was a vocal advocate for civil rights and worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight for racial equality. Belafonte also used his platform to address other social issues, such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, and humanitarian aid and has been recognized for his humanitarian work with numerous awards.

Today, we honor the legacy of this pioneering artist by looking back at some of his most memorable film and television roles, which continue to inspire and entertain audiences around the world.

  • Bright Road

    Belafonte made his acting debut in the 1953 film Bright Road, alongside the legendary Dorothy Dandridge, before going on to team up again for Otto Preminger's hit musical Carmen Jones.

  • Carmen Jones

    Belafonte landed his first lead acting role Joe, a soldier who falls for a seductress, in the 1954 musical romance, Carmen Jones, alongside Dandridge, and Pearl Bailey. Surprisingly, Belafonte’s real voice was not used for the singing parts. Still, the film was just as influential as its stars. Featuring an all Black cast, Carmen Jones rose to critical acclaim and was placed as an entry in the Library of Congress.

  • BlacKkKlansman

    Belafonte’s final film appearance was befitting of a man who put his community before his own career.  In a minor yet significant cameo, the late actor starred in the last role of his career as civil rights activist Jerome Turner in Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning movie, BlacKkKlansman. His real-life work and experience only amplified the words he spoke on screen.

  • Uptown Saturday Night

    The actor teamed up with his longtime friend, collaborator, and filmmaker Sidney Poitier for Uptown Saturday Night, which also stars Bill Cosby. Belafonte played short-tempered gangland boss Dan "Geechie Dan" Beauford in the 1974 action comedy crime film.

  • Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show

    During the late 60s, late-night television host Johnny Carson handed over his series to Belafonte for an entire week. The activist brought on several of his friends, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, just months before they were killed, making the first Black person to host a late-night TV show.

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