Oscar in hand, Harry Belafonte exhorts Hollywood on human rights

Sun Nov 9, 2014 5:00am EST
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Octogenarian actor and singer Harry Belafonte, accepting a top Hollywood human rights award, asked fellow artists and the entertainment industry to use their powerful platform to show the better side of humanity.

Before a star-studded audience and next to a long-time friend, actor Sidney Poitier, the 87-year-old Belafonte received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his lifelong fight for civil rights and humanitarian causes.

Honorary Oscars were also bestowed upon three prolific artists and creators who deeply influenced Hollywood: Irish actress Maureen O'Hara, who appeared on stage at 94, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, 73, and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, 83.

The Academy's Governors Awards gala has become the kick-off to the film awards season, bringing some of the most powerful people in Hollywood under the same roof, gathering stars from a dozen films with potential to win Oscars in February.

"To be rewarded by my peers for my work, human rights, civil rights, peace, let me put it this way: It powerfully mutes the enemy's thunder," said Belafonte.

He called artists "the relevant voice of civilization" and hoped they would help the world "see the better side of who and what we are as a species".

The Harlem-born Belafonte started out his speech remembering how Hollywood films like "Tarzan" and "Song of the South" fostered the racial divide in America and gave him an "early stimulus to the beginning of my rebellion".

"Today's cultural harvest yields a sweeter fruit," he noted, pointing to films like the gay love story "Brokeback Mountain" and Oscar best picture "12 Years a Slave."   Continued...

Honoree singer and social activist Harry Belafonte speaks after receiving the Oscar statuette for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards in Los Angeles, California November 8, 2014.  REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian