The scene is solemn, informative, and heartbreaking, and it also conveys the specific experience of leaning in to listen to elders as they share vital perspectives on parts of history that are often buried today. Belafonte, however, almost didn’t get approval to work on “BlacKkKlansman.” The musician and actor was entering his 90s and had not acted on screen since 2006. According to Deadline, Belafonte and Lee, who called the icon “Mr. B,” had a history together, with Lee’s musician father Bill Lee, as the common denominator filmmaker told Deadline that whenever he met Belafonte, “Mr. B would say, do you have to use Ossie Davis in every movie?” He always meant it jokingly, but I knew he was speaking in Serious”.
An actor and activist who appeared in Lee’s films including “School Daze,” “Malcolm X” and “Do The Right Thing,” Davis was born a decade before Belafonte and acted until his own death in 2005. Apparently, the Belafonte’s joking refrain made it easier for Lee to think of the musician when it came time to make “BlacKkKlansman.” “Here, all I thought about was Mr. B,” he shared. “I called him, I sent him the script and he loved it, but his doctor wouldn’t give him permission.” It had been a long time since Belafonte had set foot on a movie set, and his health care provider clearly didn’t think it was a good idea for the aging actor.