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Steve McQueen on his hero Harry Belafonte: ‘He had everything – but his service was to his people’

The British director recalls how the great US singer, actor and activist became a mentor to him – after giving a speech about Tarzan to celebrate 12 Years a Slave winning an award Harry Belafonte was a hero of mine. He meant everything to me. I met him around the release of 12 Years a Slave, and he became a mentor. I received a best director award at the New York Film Critics Circle awards and Harry gave an amazing speech: he talked about seeing Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan at the cinema as a child and how the depiction of people of African descent made him feel being ashamed to be Black. Look what he did – his first album sold more than 1m records. He was Martin Luther King’s closest confidant and he supported his family. He was the main organiser to get Hollywood people involved in the civil rights movement, bringing people like Sidney Poitier. He was close to Bobby Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt. And he was an artist, and he was an actor; he studied with Brando, Brando was one of his best friends. He really was a renaissance man if there ever was one, and extraordinarily good looking. He had everything, but his service was always to his people. He told me that the civil rights days were scary – what he sacrificed and what he did for the good of people was incredible. Continue reading...

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