In the early 20th century, African American crooner Paul Robeson burst onto the scene, stunning audiences with his booming voice and making his rendition of “Ol’ Man River” one of the era’s most memorable songs. But there was more to the man than that; in addition to singing and acting (memorable roles include the movie Show Boat and his Broadway / London turn as the lead character in William Shakespeare’s classic play Othello), Robeson was a political activist. His views would, eventually, lead to his passport being revoked and the incurring heavy scrutiny by the U.S. government during their age of McCarthyism.
Robeson’s life story, which is far richer and deeper than that paragraph would allow, will now be told in cinematic form courtesy of indie company Four Stars International — and it looks like they’ve found their star. Variety reports that Dave Harewood, who plays David Estes on the Showtime series Homeland, is in talks to play the late singer/activist in the biopic currently going under the name of Robeson. (His other credits include the 2006 film Blood Diamond and the excellent BBC series Robin Wood where he played Tuck.) The script was written by brothers Akel and Terry Bisson, while the project is currently shopping for a director and with shooting slated to begin early next year.
I’m really excited at the prospect of Robeson; the man’s life was truly fascinating and, at times, even heartbreaking, giving his story enough weight to help the movie rise above other musician biopics, which tend to be empty and hollow. I’ve never seen Harewood act in anything, but, considering that everyone goes absolutely insane for Homeland, I think it’s safe to assume the man has some chops. This could very well turn out to be his breakout film role. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.
For those of you unfamiliar with Paul Robeson, check out his rendition of “Ol’ Man River” taken, from Show Boat. What a voice.
Is a Robeson-centered film a bright idea? How about with Harewood at the center?