Song Of Freedom – Robeson

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Paul Robeson, Elizabeth Welch, George Mozart, Esme Percy. Many songs. (1936) 77m. B&W.


 

Robeson plays a longshoreman who becomes an opera singer and then travels to Africa to discover his roots.

“Based on Claude Williams and Dorothy Holloway’s The Kingdom of the Zinga, the Song of Freedom began shooting in the spring of 1936. It tells the story of John Zinga (Robeson)….The film held strong appeal for Robeson. In its dockside scenes especially, it showed blacks coping within the context of ordinary life–a welcome switch from the previous stereotypes of shuffling idiot, faithful retainer, happy-go-lucky hedonist, or menacing con man. Zinga himself is portrayed in the film as a natural aristocrat, a man of charm and intelligence (as is his wife, played by Elizabeth Welch). Song of Freedom, Robeson told a reporter, ‘gives me a real part for the first time,’ and he continued to refer to it in later life as one of only two films he made (the other was Proud Valley) in which he felt he could take any pride….

“Even the black press, this time around, agreed he should be satisfied: the Pittsburgh Courier welcomed Song of Freedom as the ‘finest story of colored folks yet brought to the screen…a story of triumph.'”–Martin Bauml Duberman, Paul Robeson: A Biography

Harry H. Long, reviewing in Classic Images

“Bel Canto Society has added a VHS of one of Paul Robeson’s British films, Song of Freedom, to its line of music videos. The transfer is stunning and the sound, while mono, is vivid. Considering the condition of a number of British films of the period I was not prepared for a tape of this quality. Even more surprising Freedom was not a product of one of England’s major studios but one of an initial group of productions made by the fledgling Hammer studios. The only other Hammer film from this period, The Mystery of the Mary Celeste, shows nowhere near as much technical competence and has further come down to us in a truncated, poorly preserved print.

“The plot gives him plenty of opportunity to sing and a rare chance at that time to depict a black man of intelligence, industry and dignity (for that reason it would remain one of his favorite films) even if some of the other black characters lapse into predictable stereotype. While the film isn’t flawless it’s a pity director J. Elder Wills returned to art direction after only a few more features.”