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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Body and Soul at the Gantt

Posted by on Sun, Jul 8, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Long before Sidney Poitier, there was Paul Robeson, who emerged as a top-billed movie star during a period when this country normally wouldn't tolerate an African American enjoying such lofty status. Robeson was a fascinating individual whose accomplishments could also be found outside movie theaters: a Hall of Fame football player in college, a stage actor in such hits as Show Boat (singing the definitive take on "Ol' Man River") and Othello (reportedly becoming the first black man to play the titular black character), a brilliant scholar and linguist (he spoke over a dozen languages), and a social activist whose leftist leanings made him a target of right-wing zealots in the U.S. government (they eventually destroyed his career).

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Robeson, who was almost always better than his material, made his film debut in 1925's Body and Soul, an obvious morality tale in which he stars as the corrupt Reverend Isaiah Jenkins, who doesn't think twice about ruining the lives of others. Body and Soul, being screened as part of The Classic International Black Cinema Series, was directed by African-American film pioneer Oscar Micheaux, who, incidentally, died of heart failure here in Charlotte in 1951, while passing through town on a promotional tour. Free with museum admission. July 8, 2 p.m. Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, 551 S. Tryon St. 704-547-3700. www.ganttcenter.org.

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