CLASSIC REEL: 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner'
Cast: Sir Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Katherine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway and Isabel Sanford
Year of release: 1967
Directed by: Stanley Kramer
Plot: A liberal couple is forced to ponder just how liberal they are when their daughter brings home her fiance, an African-American man.
While this film tackled racism- and not just one side-, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner was also groundbreaking because of its bold tackling of interracial marriage and presenting it in a positive light; an issue considered illegal back then. Some real-life interracial couples, happy to say, were able to overcome society's disapproval, yet it is very sad and painful that society cannot allow two people in love to be happy; all because of the colour of their skin. People really need to learn to show more love and an open heart or simply mind their own f*****g business.
John is an assistant director with the WHO in Switzerland and a widower (having lost his wife and son 8 years prior in an accident) and he and Joey's courtship is actually a whirlwind one, as they've only known each other for 10 days after meeting in Hawaii. But that is the least of both families' worries when they find out about their engagement and waste no time showing their disapproval, which also included the Houghtons' African-American housekeeper Tillie (Future Emmy winner Isabel Sanford, renowned for playing Louise 'Weezie' Jefferson in All in the Family and the spinoff The Jeffersons) the first person in the household to be introduced to John. Finding John pretentious, she made this hurtful remark to Joey, 'If you want my opinion, I don't care to see to a member of my own race getting above himself,' much to Joey's dismay, as she didn't expect Tillie of all people to make such an objection.
Yeah... answer that, Tillie. Dr King and others fought for civil rights, but how can there be unity if there is still a divide where people should 'know their place'?
But then again, Joey was raised by self-proclaimed liberals who taught her about racial equality; hence she saw John as a man, not a black man and felt that the only objection her parents would have about her marriage was that it was too soon.
Once they are alone in his study, Matt asked Christina: 'Did it ever occur to you this might happen?' At Christina's reply of 'no', Matt said, 'It never occurred to me either.'
Adding to their dilemma is John (sans Joey) informing them that while he loves Joey, he won't marry her if they objected to the marriage, not wishing to ruin their relationship with their daughter.
Christina reminded Matt of what they taught Joey about equality, adding they never said to her, 'don't ever fall in love with a coloured man.'
Hence, with their present attitude, won't they look like hypocrites? And how would they face Joey if they objected to the marriage?
Hilary, Christina's employee at the art gallery, wasted no time objecting to Joey's 'appalling decision' and Christina- Katherine Hepburn's performance in full form- wasted no time firing her ass for her racist attitude towards John.
'It's not that I don't want to know you, Hilary, although I don't, it's just that I'm afraid we're not really the sort of people that you can afford to be associated with,' leaving the silly woman speechless.
Matt's disapproval increases during an altercation with a young African-American who insults him; unfairly blaming John for allowing Joey to fall in love with him and unable to pretend he is happy about the situation. Yet, he faced losing Joey's love if he tells them they cannot marry.
Poiter's acting skills, impeccable as always- showed its teeth during his character's confrontation with his disapproving father, who arrives at the house with Mrs Prentice. His rant is low, cold and angry; eloquently uttered word for word- one of the reasons why Poiter earned himself the status of a leading man back in the day where most African American actors played criminals, slaves and servants. Like Joey, he saw no colour difference between them and made it clear to Daddy where he stood in the matter, emotionally telling his sweet-faced mother how being with Joey made him feel alive again after his tragic loss years back.
Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner was not shy to address the main subjects of interracial marriage and racial divide and how what two people felt about each other was the most important thing. While modern viewers would cringe at the use of the words 'coloured man', 'nigger'-ironically it was Tillie who called John that- and 'negro', it is a heartfelt drama with a great cast, its social message further emphasised by its theme song, The Glory of Love by Frank DeVol.
Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner was the ninth and final pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.
During Tracy's memorable speech, Hepburn's eyes were filled with tears as she watched him. They were real tears because Tracy's health was very poor by then, and had little time left. And sadly, Spencer Tracy passed away 17 days after filming ended.
That same year, (6 months before the film's release) Richard and Mildred Loving won their case when the Supreme court of Virginia declared their marriage legal and abolished previous state laws that banned interracial marriage.
-Sir Sidney Poitier's real-life marriage is an interracial one, his second wife is retired actress Joanna Shimkus Poitier, who he married in 1976.
-This was Isabel Sanford's and Katherine Houghton's film debut.
-Katherine Hepburn won the Oscar for Best Actress and a BAFTA for Best Actress in a Leading Role and the film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Spencer Tracy posthumously winning the BAFTA for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
- Sir Sidney Poitier was previously in another one of Stanley Kramer's films, The Defiant Ones, starring him and Tony Curtis.
- A loose remake, Guess Who, came out in 2005; starring Ashton Kutcher (Simon) and Zoe Salanda (Theresa), with the late Bernie Mac as Theresa's disapproving father.
-In The Jeffersons, starring Isabel Sanford (Tillie) and Sherman Hemsley, their characters are next-door neighbours to an interracial couple, Thomas (Frank Cover) and Helen (Roxie Roker, mother of Lenny Kravitz).