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Controversial 1960s film takes patience

POSTED: February 6, 2014 10:34 a.m.

Here in the Deep South, the idea of interracial relationships has been an iffy subject for some and probably still is for many people who lived through the Civil Rights movement.

As a ’90s baby, seeing an interracial couple on the street is about as shocking to me as seeing a leaf on a tree. It’s just not a big deal.

Though it may be much less of a taboo idea today, director Stanley Kramer took this controversial topic head on in 1967 with his entertaining film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

I decided to review this movie in honor of Black History month, and I was really interested to see Kramer adapt such a disputable topic of that time for film and the message he would send.

Starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton, the film begins with Joanna “Joey” Drayton (Houghton) and John Prentice (Poitier) falling in love in Hawaii and facing the prospect of telling Joey’s parents (Tracy and Hepburn) that they wish to be married. The only thing is, the couple never told Joey’s parents that John is black.

Joey’s parents, though liberal San Franciscans, greet the news with skepticism and shock. They are unsure whether to give their blessing to the couple, who met a mere 10 days before. And let’s be serious, who can blame them?

The family then plans a dinner to give Joey’s parents more time to decide if they will approve the marriage. Joey even decides to invite John’s parents (Roy E. Glenn Sr. and Beah Richards), neither of whom knows their son is in love with a white woman. (Dun dun dun ... suspense!)

Seems to be shaping up to be quite an interesting dinner, huh?

The rest of the film is basically just full of debate about whether the marriage is a good idea and what society will think about the relationship. And while interracial love was, and sometimes still is, a complex idea to understand for some, the film to me became a little boring.

There are only so many different ways someone can say, “Eh, I just don’t know if it’s a good idea,” and only so many times I can hear it before I want to punch my laptop. I felt like they made a feature film out of what could have been a 30-minute conversation.

Then I realized that’s probably a typical response from a 23-year-old who has never seen interracial love as an issue. I constantly had to remind myself to be patient because I didn’t grow up during a time or in a family that held negative opinions toward interracial relationships.

I will say Kramer did a great job of spotlighting the many sides of the multi-faceted “problem” with conversations between disapproving fathers who worry about what society will think, skeptical mothers and family friends who simply want Joey and John to be happy.

The end of the movie, a long monologue by Tracy finalizing his opinion of the marriage, was the best part. He makes excellent points and empowering remarks regarding the taboo love, many of which had me wanting to give him a high-five.

Though the plot was a little dull, the movie itself was entertaining and resonated with me because of the issue it raised.

It’s sad to me that such explicit racism existed and the issue hasn’t completely gone away. But it’s great that we have made such great strides away from it. And though many people still oppose the idea of interracial love, what is most important to remember is love is love, and we are all the same underneath. The color of your skin makes you no better, nor any less of a person, than the person standing next to you.

Chelsea Tench is a copy editor for The Times. She will review movies found on Netflix or Amazon Instant video. To make a suggestion, email her at ctench@gainesvilletimes.com.


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