Song of Freedom

1937

Song of Freedom

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Along with The Emperor Jones, Song of Freedom is arguably the best of Paul Robeson's starring features. Robeson plays London dockworker John Zinga, obsessed with the urge to return to his African "roots" (this was nearly 40 years before Alex Haley!) Discovered by an operatic impresario, John achieves singing stardom on the concert stage -- only to throw it all away to make a pilgrimage to Africa, there to assume leadership of his ancestral tribe, the Casangas. His efforts to free the natives of their superstitions and bring the advantages of civilization to the region are opposed by the local witch doctors, who do their best to kill John and his young wife (Elizabeth Welch). Zinga is saved when he suddenly and instinctively offers a rendition of the tribal "song of freedom," proving beyond all doubt that he is the rightful ruler of the Casangas. Advertised as a "$500,000 epic" (a not inconsiderable sum for a British film in the mid-1930s), Song of Freedom did quite well at the box-office -- except, of course, in the white-bread American South.

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