Sunday, March 21, 2010

Scandalize My Name: Stories from the Blacklist

Paul Robeson
The period known as "McCarthyism" in this country rarely brings to mind names of prominent Black performers, athletes, academics and politicians. The documentary Scandalize My Name: Stories from the Blacklist gives us another angle of history and takes a look at the confluence of McCarthyism, and blacklists with the post-war activism by African Americans seeking more and better roles on radio, television, and stage. It begins in Harlem, measures the impact of Paul Robeson and the campaign to bring him down, looks at the role of HUAC, J. Edgar Hoover and of journalists such as Ed Sullivan, and ends with a tribute to African-American actor Canada Lee. Throughout are interviews with men and women who were there, including Dick Campbell of the Rose McLendon Players and Fredrick O'Neal of the American Negro Theatre. In the 1940s and 1950s, anti-Communism was one more tool to maintain Jim Crow and to keep African-Americans in roles that were inhumane, stereotypical and demeaning.

For today's performers, this documentary is a must-see. It gives context to the current images we see on television and provides an example as to how a movement was begun and quickly thwarted when Black artists unified and spoke out against the hypocrisy of justice for all. What is particularly disarming is the political fire that many of the prominent artists we know of and adore had burning within. For instance, Paul Robeson was not only an amazing actor and singer, but was also a charismatic political figure that spoke out for the rights of Black US citizens.

A must-see for today's artists interested in using their art to make change.
Hazel Scott
Canada Lee

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