Song of Freedom

Paul Robeson called this 1936 British production “the first film to give a true picture of many aspects of the life of the colored man in the West.” Robeson plays John Zinga, a London dockhand who always feels “out of place” and has a deep yearning to track down his African origins; after a mildly absurd impresario discovers him and makes him an opera star, Zinga gets his chance to return to his homeland. The film may seem a bit dated—and European—in its depiction of native life, and J. Elder Willis's direction is indifferent. But Song of Freedom is worth seeing both for its relatively advanced treatment of race and for Robeson's singing. Indeed, the narrative often structures itself around his voice, which is seen filling his neighbors' homes at the beginning and saving his wife from death at the end.

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