American icon Harry Belafonte sat before journalists at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Thursday to promote his HBO documentary, “Sing Your Song,” a film reflecting on his Hollywood career and activism.
The eloquent 84-year-old spoke at length on his drive to make headlines beyond his work in entertainment, shedding light on aiding humanity at large. So as a lifelong activist who has affected change in Washington, D.C., for decades, critics couldn’t help but wonder: What would Belafonte say to politicians regarding the current debt crisis?
“What would I say?” Belafonte pondered. “I think they need to make it very simple and very precise and concise. My question would be to the Congress and to the President and to a lot of institutions in the United States of power, ‘What happened to moral truth? What happened to moral courage? Why has it been so eliminated from our DNA? Why is it so unattainable in our current social quest and where we go?’
“I understand the game of politics,” he asserted. “I’ve been at it for 70 years — oh, wow. But politics without moral purpose, really, more often than not, winds up as tyranny, and I think the more we capitulate to what is practical, what is more easily achieved in the face of what may be more difficult to do but necessary, I think is where we sit.”
But Belafonte had strong words for those in power beyond their failure to solve the nation’s fiscal woes — with the President taking the brunt of his criticism.
“Barack Obama and his mission has failed because it has lacked a certain kind of moral courage, a certain kind of moral vision that we are in need of,” Belafonte said. “This does not make him a stand-alone, however, and there is still a lot of opportunity for that corner to be turned. … When he said, ‘Yes, we can,’ it may have been politically clever. He never defined for us what he was saying. So those of us who felt that we needed change filled in that space with our own images of what we thought he meant only to find out we are all disappointed because none of those things have been satisfied.”
Belafonte’s solution: Demand more from our government.
“In a lifetime where I have been a political social activist, it is what we made the government do, not what the government did voluntarily,” he says. “It was what we made happen in the time of America in the ’50s and ’60s, even before then, when the nation decided to go to war against fascism, et cetera, et cetera. I think, if anything, what the artists should be doing and what the world at large should be doing should be a campaign to make [Obama enact change].”