Paul Robeson
Guy Lochhead, 04/03/13
Black American modern renaissance man – an All-American professional American football player, internationally successful singer and actor on stage and screen, activist and worker. Despite his fame and success as an athlete and artist, his uncompromising political views (pro-civil rights, anti-fascist) led to him becoming an outcast in the USA by the early ’40s. He found hope in Europe and, particularly, the USSR and communist China. This further ostracised him from many Americans. He was included on McCarthy’s anti-communist blacklist, and this affected his films’ popularity, record sales and social status. At the end of McCarthyism, Robeson toured again but ill health forced him into an early retirement in the early ’60s. Robeson’s unwavering commitment to his political causes has been criticised by some as based in passion rather than evidence, but in the racial and social climate that he existed in I respect and admire his strength of will. I also believe that his support of the USSR was mostly to do with viewing it as a foil to the capitalist racist colonialism of the West rather than 100% support of Stalin. He was multi-talented and incredibly focused. His ability to get a platform for his generally-progressive views in the social climate of his country/world was truly a triumph against all odds. The world would, at the very least, be a more interesting place if there were more people like him. His manifesto/autobiography ‘Here I Stand’ is a good starting point, but I think his real power is as a symbol. The Criterion DVD collection ‘Portraits Of The Artist’ would be worth including but his performances as Othello are perhaps the best representation of his achievements, so I will include the Pearl LP of his performance.

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