Great films are memorable and stand the test of time. Some films can be life-changing yet remain undiscovered: never celebrated for their true worth; buried under the helm of socio-political systematic hypocrisy. The Sit-in is a documentary that captures a pivotal event in the history of America. Against the intensity of public demonstrations in support of the civil rights movement and the negativity surrounding America’s invasion of Vietnam – something changed. So, what happened; Harry Belafonte, a popular black actor and civil rights activist, was asked to host one of America’s most influential talk show programmes: The Tonight Show. Front man and entertainment icon Johnny Carson, the resident host, asked Belafonte to get in the hot seat and host the show for a week.

For those seven nights, guests on the celebrity sofa included Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy, just a few months before they were both assassinated. Other celebrity guests included notable black Americans such as Lena Horne, Dionne Warwick and Sidney Poitier.

The format of the shows were both entertaining and informative with comedy and music. A notable moment was actor Paul Newman playing the trombone re-enacting his role as an expatriate trombonist in Martin Ritt’s drama ‘Paris Blues’.
The Sit-in is a pioneering work in broadcast history with never-before-seen footage that unintentionally was a contributing catalyst to the empowerment of civil rights and the freedom of speech that we currently experience in the media, and in our daily lives.

Written by Sharon Hinds

The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show premieres Thursday 14th October at 7pm BST with screening and Q&A with Harry Belafonte’s daughter, actress and producer Gina Belafonte including special guest host Akua Gyamfi founder of The British Blacklist, as we celebrate Black history, art and culture this #BlackHistoryMonth

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