With The Emperor Jones, Robeson became the first African-American leading man in mainstream movies and, he said, gained a deeper understanding of cinema's potential to change racial misconceptions. Previously censored, The Emperor Jones is presented here in its most complete form.
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Saul J. Turell's Academy Award-winning documentary short Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist , narrated by Sidney Poitier, traces his career through his activism and his socially charged performances of his signature song, "Ol' Man River.
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Seeking out new avenues for his artistry, Paul Robeson moved his family to London in During the next twelve years, he headlined six British films, pioneering uncharted territory for black actors and reaching a level of prominence unthinkable in Hollywood. As a result, Robeson sought more artistic control, eventually achieving it with Jericho, which features Robeson in what turned out to be his most satisfying film role, as a World War I officer who escapes his fate as a black man by fleeing to Africa and creating a new world for himself.
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By the start of World War II, Paul Robeson had given up his lucrative mainstream work to participate in more socially progressive film and stage productions. As David Goliath, in the popular British drama The Proud Valley , Robeson is the quintessential everyman, an American sailor who joins rank-and-file Welsh miners organizing against the powers that be. With Robeson's narration and songs, this beautifully shot and edited film exposes violations of Americans' civil liberties and is a call to action for exploited workers around the country.
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The son of an escaped slave, the young Robeson excelled at virtually everything he turned his hand to. Abandoning a legal career after experiencing severe racism at work, Robeson embarked on an acting and singing career that earned him worldwide fame. At the same time, he campaigned against racism and social injustice, performing for loyalist soldiers in the Spanish civil war, at anti-Nazi demonstrations — and frequently in south Wales, after a delegation of unemployed miners walked to London to meet Robeson, who was appearing in Show Boat in the West End.
During the McCarthy era in the US, Robeson was denounced as a communist, blacklisted from film studios and concert venues, and refused a passport to travel abroad.