Throughout the week, we’ll be celebrating the 90th birthdays or both Sidney Poitier (February 20) and Harry Belafonte (March 1), recalling past work (especially their lesser known films) and other clickables, on this blog and on social media (see yesterday’s Porgy & Bess post, as well as today’s “The Slender Thread” and “Did You Know” posts).
“Not 4 Sale” is a short film directed and writing by the team of Roger Melvin and Haran Jackson, which is inspired by an excerpt from Sidney Poitier’s autobiography “The Measure of a Man.”
Set in the early 1950’s, the film is centered around the infamous “Hollywood Blacklist” – the list of entertainers who were singled out and blacklisted for their political leanings and associations (specifically the Communist Party), whether they were proven or just suspected. The movement damaged careers and friendships, and promoted ideological censorship across the entire industry.
It may not widely known that Poitier did have his brush with the Blacklist, which he related in “The Measure of a Man” as well as in a 1989 conversation that was part of a Museum of the Moving Image retrospective, which was moderated by Donald Bogle and then senior curator of film Richard Koszarski:
“There was an organization called the Negro Actors Guild, remember that? There was a man who was a part of that guild who—a black man—who was—he was an informer, and he caused an awful lot of black actors to become blacklisted. I had no idea that I was being victimized in that regard because I had so many problems getting work anyhow, so there was another kind of blacklist operative for me. But anyway, because of having gotten the job in ‘Lysistrata’ and other things, I was a member of Actors’ Equity. And the only place to raise your complaints about the lack of job opportunities is on the union floor, and I did. I did in concert with lots of other actors. He sent my name in. And I didn’t learn this because I wasn’t getting any work anyhow. I didn’t learn that there was a question about my loyalty until I was asked to come to see about a television show called “A Man Is Ten Feet Tall” written by someone I knew. So I went, and they liked me, and they wanted to use me. I said, ‘Terrific.’ I made a deal, money arranged, and they said that a lawyer from NBC wanted to see me. And I went to his office and I thought it was about the contract. It turned out he wanted me to explain why I had worked with Paul Robeson. ‘I really had not worked with Paul Robeson,’ I corrected him. ‘I appeared with Robeson on several occasions to raise funds or to support a cause, but I was never paid for it.’ And he said, ‘We need an explanation as to why you did that.’ And I said, ‘I did it because I felt it, because I honestly believed that what he was fighting for was something one should lend support to.’ And he said, ‘We can’t use you until you repudiate that behavior.’ He moved on to Canada Lee, he said, ‘You also know Canada Lee…’ Anyway to make a long story short, I said to NBC, ‘I will not sign it, and thank you very much for the job offer, but that’s the way it is.’ They wanted me to sign something. The production was—I’ve forgotten who was the producer—anyway the writer Robert Alan Arthur, a friend of mine, came to my house to try to work out a compromise. I told him I could not work out a compromise. I remember being so angry because I had thought then—and I think now—that Paul Robeson was one of the most remarkable men I’d ever met, and to ask me to deny him was an offense to me. And I remember being so angry in the lawyer’s office I started to cry. But anyway, I was told by Robert Alan Arthur to report for rehearsal. I did. I expected to be approached again and never was. I believe had I been approached again I would not have signed it. The upshot of it was, somehow or another, I never heard again from the lawyer.”
There’s more to it, so check out the full interview here.
The short film “Not 4 Sale” is centered around this period and the above occurrences. Funded via Kickstarter in 2013 (the filmmakers successfully raised over $15,000) Isaiah Washington stars as Sidney Poitier, while Terri J. Vaughn plays Juanita Poitier. There’s a feature film to be made of this specific story (and quite frankly many other individual Poitier tales), especially as we tend to speak or hear of Poitier’s early life and career challenges and accomplishments in broad strokes; but director Melvin’s short film will do for now.
Marcus Chong plays Harry Belafonte (who celebrates his 90th birthday on March 1), and Kim Estes Kim Estes is Canada Lee (he left us a long time ago, in 1952).
The film is online and worth a look on Poitier’s 90th birthday today; so check it out below: