By Stephen Bourne
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Extra info for Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television
They were not very glamorous jobs, either! After I left school, I tried to get into show business to earn some money for the family. In 1926, when I was just sixteen years old, I auditioned for a famous West End stage revue called Blackbirds which starred that marvellous American entertainer, Florence Mills. This was going to be a big musical production, with a huge cast of black singers and dancers. But I couldn't sing or dance, so for the audition I recited a poem! Can you imagine that? They must have thought I was mad.
However, she had nothing but admiration for Robeson's wish to combat racism: It was during the shooting of the film Song of Freedom that I got to know and love — Paul Robeson. Arriving to play opposite that great man - and it being my first speaking part in a film - I was overwhelmed, and as nervous as a kitten. The nerves were soon calmed, however, when I saw that huge smile light up his face, and felt the warmth of a friendly giant when he pressed my hand in both of his, and welcomed me. It was a happy time for me, working with Paul and watching him work.
African students also found their way onto the set, eager to earn some extra money. Between 1934 and 1937 Jomo Kenyatta studied at two London universities, and appeared in a minor role as a chieftain in Sanders. In 1964 Kenyatta became President of the Republic of Kenya. Martin Bauml Duberman draws attention to the apparent contradiction between his appearance in such a film and his political activities: It's worth noting that Jomo Kenyatta seems to have felt no qualms about the direction the film was taking, expressing 'delight' in 'the music and the spirit of the African scenes'.