Harry Belafonte says Hollywood has yet to explore the breadth of black experience and that the industry will "never ever yield to the needs of people of color."
The 84-year-old entertainer made the remarks at a presentation on artists and activism held Wednesday during the 102nd annual National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Convention.
Louis Gossett Jr., Tatyana Ali, Hill Harper and members of the Black Stuntmen's Association appeared alongside Belafonte at the panel discussion. He urged the NAACP to form a group of artists and thinkers to inspire the kind of "radical thought" necessary for change, and he called on black actors and filmmakers to "come together and create some institutional base that's ours."
"It seems to me that long ago we could have put together black studios, put together a black distribution center," Belafonte said. "Maybe we couldn't reach 100 million, but we could reach 100,000, and have 100,000 exposed to a great truth. I'd rather have that than 100 million exposed to something vacuous and inaccurate."
Belafonte said that "in pursuit of ego, in pursuit of large, ridiculous sums of money, we have sold our birthright that somehow we are more victim than we are responsible."
Though he was the most outspoken of the panelists, the other actors agreed that black artists and consumers are responsible for changing the way the entertainment industry represents people of color.
"It's very hard to find roles that I can be proud of," said Ali, 32. "The archetypes for black women specifically have not fully been explored."
Alex Brown and Willis Harris, representing the Black Stuntmen's Association, talked about their experience fighting for change: They created the BSA in 1966 to end the exclusion of black stunt performers from Hollywood productions. Until then, white stuntmen were "painted" to perform stunts for black actors.
The performers all said that activism and education are essential to advancement in Hollywood. Belafonte said "radical thought" is critical.
"You're not going to find solutions until you're willing to embrace radical thought," he said. "Every time black people moved ahead in the history of this country is because somewhere in this nation, a group of people dared to think radically and do radical things."
The six-day NAACP Convention ends Thursday.