As part of its Black Star season – a celebration of black contributions to the history of cinema – the British Film Institute (BFI) has commissioned a new live score for Paul Robeson's acting debut, Body and Soul (1925). Composed by the jazz pianist Peter Matthews, it will performed by Edwards with the Nu Civilisation Orchestra Ensemble.
Directed by Oscar Micheaux, the most important African-American filmmaker of the silent era, Body and Soul stars Robeson as a escaped convict who passes himself off as a local preacher. When he falls in love with a member of his congregation, however, matters come to a head, leading to a very surprising ending.
Famed for both singing and acting, Robeson spent much of his life advocating for left-wing political causes. Anti-fascist and pro-Spanish Republican, he was a major supporter of the movement for Civil Rights. During the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, he was blacklisted for pro-Soviet statements and denied a passport, an event from which his career never recovered. It is only recently, and thanks to work by organisations like the BFI, that his reputation as one of cinema's most important black actors has been restored.