The scene is solemn, informative, and heartbreaking, and it also relays the specific experience of leaning in to listen to one’s elders as they share vital perspectives on parts of history that are often buried today. Belafonte, however, almost didn’t get the sign-off to work on “BlacKkKlansman” at all. The musician and actor was by then entering his 90s and hadn’t acted on screen since 2006. According to Deadline, Belafonte and Lee — who called the icon “Mr. B” — had a history together, with Lee’s musician father Bill Lee as the common denominator. The filmmaker told Deadline that whenever he ran into Belafonte, “Mr. B would say, do you have to use Ossie Davis in every film? He always said it playfully, but I knew he was serious.”

Davis, an actor and activist who appeared in Lee’s films including “School Daze,” “Malcolm X,” and “Do The Right Thing,” was born a decade before Belafonte and acted up until his own death in 2005. Belafonte’s joking refrain apparently made it easy for Lee to think of the musician when it came time to make “BlacKkKlansman.” “Here, all I thought of was Mr. B,” he shared. “I called him up, sent him the script and he loved it but his doctor wouldn’t give him permission.” It had been a long time since Belafonte stepped foot on a movie set, and his healthcare provider clearly didn’t think it was a good idea for the aging performer.