In her new documentary “In the Know with Shari Belafonte,” Blanchet sits down with the actress, model, writer and singer – and of course, daughter of the famous entertainer Harry Belafonte – and asks her about her life in the spotlight, the obstacles she had to overcome working in show business as a young black woman, and what it was like to grow up with the “King of Calypso” as your father.
Known for her role as Julie Gillette in the 1980s TV series “Hotel,” as a Slim-Fast spokesperson in the 1990s, and for the more than 300 magazine covers she graced, Shari Belafonte is nothing short of an icon. Coming from a fashion design background, Blanchet knew Belafonte best from Vogue; where she is currently tied with Rihanna for being the black model with the most covers. They both have made appearances on the front of the magazine five times.
“I think she’s had the most interesting life,” said Blanchet, a La Jolla resident and CEO of the PR firm Your Own Girl Friday. “I was curious about what it was like to work in Hollywood, and Shari was really candid about it. She’s an open book; you see it in the film.”
In the 28-minute long documentary, Belafonte opens up about some pivotal moments in her life like leaving home at the age of 14, posing for Playboy magazine at the age of 45 and taking a 15-year hiatus from the industry. Blanchet said that the most common reaction she received from people who saw the film – which has been shown at the IndieFEST Film Awards, The Capital City International Black Film Festival, and the International Black Film Festival – was how surprised people were.
“She said a lot of things about her life that no one ever knew,” Blanchet said. “That was the comment I kept getting. And when you’re a filmmaker and trying to get a story, you’ve got a find an interesting life.
Even Belafonte was surprised.
“I never thought my story would be interesting enough to garner that much ‘airtime,’” Belafonte said. “But, the delightful thing for me was watching it and realizing just how much ‘living’ I’ve actually done.
“Not that it’s anywhere near ‘done,’” she added.
One of the takeaways from the film for Blanchet was how Belafonte shows that having a well-known name in life isn’t always a guarantee. Belafonte agrees and said that because she refused to “put out” to climb the ladder in Hollywood, her career suffered.
“I watch the ‘Me Too’ campaigners and know how many of those stories coincide with mine,” she said. “But, my integrity has stayed intact and I believe good karma follows good intentions. While my ‘pocket’ may have suffered major blows along the way, from losing jobs that could’ve – should’ve – been mine, I know that my conscience is clean for having taken that stand of not to fall prey to the male-dominated society that we live in.
“And, hopefully, folks will come to realize that I wasn’t just a pretty face and didn’t get as far as I did today based on having one.”
While the film did touch on a lot of different aspects of her life, there is always more to be said.
“My only regret is that we didn’t go into more detail about my Native American roots and my mother’s life and the importance she played in mine. We’re so cut and dry when it comes to black and white. I’ve sadly neglected my Native American heritage because it wasn’t honored, even though my mother was on the White House Commission for Native American Affairs. I’m trying to make up for that now.”
The film will make its San Diego debut at the upcoming San Diego Black Film Festival. Held from Jan. 30 through Feb.3 at Arclight Cinemas La Jolla, the festival spotlights African American and African diaspora cinema. Maxwell James, the film’s editor, said that even though Belafonte is the subject of the documentary, she provides inspiration for people facing all sorts of obstacles.
“While this film was meant to celebrate her life journey as an artist, it also sheds light on the struggles Shari has had along the way as a woman, person of color, and aging artist,” he said. “This documentary provides a window into one person’s experience with ageism, racism, and gender bias.”
And, of course, Belafonte has a good piece of advice for that.
“Hopefully, what folks will get from this (especially women of color) that one does have to reinvent themselves time and time again,” she said, “and there’s nothing but excitement that should come of that.”
“In the Know with Shari Belafonte” will play at the SDBFF on Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. Visit www.sdbff.com for tickets and information.