Documentary

The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show

The doc on how Harry Belafonte hosted “The Tonight Shows” finds a home on Peacock.

“From New York, “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson, and now here’s……..the fabulous Harry Belafonte.”

To explain, Carson allowed Harry Belafonte, the “Day-O” music legend, to host “The Tonight Show” for a week in 1968. It wasn’t just the songs (“The Banana Boat Song,” “Jump in the Line”) he sang or the movies (“BlacKkKlansman,” “Kansas City,” “The World, The Flesh, and The Devil”) he starred in; he was also an activist, who took the opportunity to present racial themes, social problems, and the legends sharing their voices on the show.

This was landmark in television history.

It was during a time when the Black Panther Party was kicking in, and the nation was battling against racism. And it was also during a time when African-American actors were starting to appear in various movies and television programs. “The Tonight Show” was willing to expand its horizons, and beginning to talk about political and social issues as well as the new movies and shows.

One of the guests he had was Bobby Kennedy, who had to see the segregation and racism through the eyes of African-American children, he felt horrible for them. He became a spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement. He also spoke with Martin Luther King, Jr. (on his last television appearance before his assassination), Sydney Poitier, Aretha Franklin, and Paul Newman, among others, and the movie shares with us their impacts on society, not just their hits and speeches, but also their perspectives on the nation.

Another big issue the movie informs us is that NBC Studios used to tape over most of Belafonte’s shows, probably to save room or money, and they only kept the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy episodes and some Leon Bibb music numbers. They practically destroyed part of history, however, a Long Island resident by the name of Phil Gries kept most audio recordings of the shows. We should be lucky the documentary was able to keep some of the recordings and archive footage, because this is crucial to television history.

Harry Belafonte is still alive and kicking at the age of 93. Well, maybe not kicking, but you know what I mean. I’m riveted that he’s able to speak about the past in the interview segments, and how his asking voice reflects on them. His words are moving and he shares his feelings about what cultures went through and how the media was impacted on all, this. It’s no wonder he gave that electrifying speech in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.”

I wasn’t able to get every detail about this moment in history, but I was still able to acknowledge that “The Sit-In” isn’t just about the guest host, but also about how that week has helped changed the face of television and how the nation went from one movement to the next. Late night television was never the same again, because of all the political and social conversations the hosts and guests had and will continue to have. If you even think about taping over this important piece of history, then you really are an idiot. The people that did were. They didn’t know what they were in for.

It’s one of the new movies on NBC’s new streaming service Peacock,” and it couldn’t have come at a more timely rate, especially with all the racial violence continuing in America. Belafonte still has a voice and it needs to be heard.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Streaming on Peacock

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