Who Will Play Paul Robeson?

That’s the question everyone has started buzzing about since Steve McQueen‘s announcement this week that his next movie will be devoted to Robeson, one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. Robeson, who died in 1976, was trained as a lawyer, but left the profession after facing racism. He went on to become a well-regarded actor, singer and civil rights activist who achieved worldwide fame. There is no one alive who is as gifted as Robeson. At the very least, whoever’s cast would have to be handsome, intelligent, and, this is essential, be possessed of a powerful, deep singing voice. Robeson, did, after all, indelibly sing “Ol Man River” in the 1936 movie of “Show Boat.” Obvious choice for the role: Idris Elba; inevitable choice for the role: Denzel. But I think McQueen will go in another direction, preferring to find a fresher face, who can allow us to believe we’re watching Robeson rather than a movie star. And with his Best Picture clout from “12 Years A Slave,” I think McQueen might get financing without a big name. Harry Belafonte is advising McQueen on the project.

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