9:30pm Monday, August 13 on Prime
Under African Skies
In 1985, when Paul Simon went to South Africa to record his Graceland album, anti-apartheid protestors showed up and waved signs that said, “Paul Simon is a sellout,” “Be Careful Paul. Our Blood Shall Not Spill in Vain,” and “Yankee Go Home!”. At the time, South Africa was still implementing its vicious practice of racial separation, and Simon had violated a U.N. supported boycott by traveling there to record with black musicians. Never mind that Graceland was giving those artists a chance to earn a viable living, and never mind that Graceland was promoting a cultural side of South Africa that humanised its black citizens.
In the eyes of his harshest critics, Simon, a privileged white American, was badly betraying the unified front against apartheid. Under African Skies, the documentary that revisits the controversy over Simon’s Graceland, puts the singer on the spot as he returns to South Africa 25 years after recording the album that became an international best-seller and a flashpoint in an intense debate that Simon admits was “very hurtful” to his sense of mission and his sense of self.
On camera, the now 70-year-old Simon wrestles (at times defiantly, and at times defensively) with the legacy of Graceland, an album that sold five million copies months after its release and ultimately snagged a Grammy for Album of the Year (1986) and Record of the Year (1987). Under African Skies is a powerful film precisely because the controversy still haunts Simon, even as people around the world continue to cite Graceland’s positive impact on their lives. Under African Skies is also up for three awards in this year’s Emmy Awards; Outstanding Nonfiction Special, Outstanding Sound Editing For Nonfiction Programming, and Outstanding Sound Mixing For Nonfiction Programming.