Saturday, February 13, 2010

Black History Month Day Thirteen: Brock Peters

Brock Peters is probably best known for his role of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird. Star Trek fans however will remember him as Admiral Cartwright and as Benjamin Sisko's father, Joseph.

Granted, neither of these are really horror oriented, but that scene in To Kill a Mockingbird- in the woods with Scout in her ham costume is very frightening- and so Brock Peters will have his day whether he is horror orientated or not! The truth is, Brock Peters performance in To Kill a Mockingbird is one that has always moved me.
The character of Tom Robinson is one of the most heartbreaking and tragic heroes in the literary world- and I can't help but cry when he is questioned in the court room. Moments of hatred for the Ewell's are momentarily subsided when we find that Tom couldn't possibly have strangled Mayella, since his left hand was cut up in a cotton gin when he was younger. However hope leaps straight out the window when the jury finds Tom guilty and he is later shot when trying to escape. Brock Peters' performance is so emotional and powerful I often wondered what happened to him after that legendary film was made.

As it turns out, Brock Peters actually had a pretty impressive singing career.
He toured with the opera after dropping out of the City College of New York, and ended up being nominated for a Tony for his starring role in Lost in the Stars. One of the most interesting accomplishments to learn about, at least for me who loves Harry Belafonte, is that Brock Peters sang background vocals on 1956's Banana Boat (Day-O) and on Mama Look At Bubu! However the nerd in me also absolutely loves the fact that Brock played Darth Vader on the NPR adaption of the original Star Wars Trilogy.

Brock Peters lived to be 78 years old, dying of pancreatic cancer in 2005. I've read a few interviews, and quick questions with Brock and it seems as though he lived his life doing what he loved most- acting. He's won a National Film Society Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actor's Guild, as well as the accomplishment of being inducted into the Black Filmmaker's Hall of Fame in 1976. In 2003 he read the eulogy at Gregory Peck's funeral, in which he said, "In art there is compassion, in compassion there is humanity, with humanity there is generosity and love. Gregory Peck gave us these attributes in full measure,”

There wasn't a dry eye on set filming that scene… [the director] Robert Mulligan sat me down and asked me to prepare for the point where I burst into tears by only going to places in my mind where I remembered and experienced pain, and let me tell you the tears did come.”

No comments: