Breaking down film and racial barriers

This weekend I was sitting in my dorm room, about to start my chapter 11 reading for sociology. The topic was race and ethnicity. I turned on Turner Classic Movies, as I tend to do when I’m reading for sociology. Just starting was the 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

The movie stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as husband and wife. Their 23-year-old daughter, Joey (Hepburn’s real-life niece Katharine Houghton) has returned home from a trip to Hawaii and she tells them she is going to marry a successful doctor. They are thrilled about the news until they find out she is in love with a black man, John (Sidney Poitier). John’s parents are not too excited either, considering Joey is a white woman.

Director Stanley Kramer was taking a risk bringing the political and social issues of skin color to the world of Hollywood in 1967. John’s father has a line in the film, saying “In 16 or 17 states you’ll be breaking the law. You’ll be criminals.”

And before June 12, 1967, that was true. That day the Supreme Court unanimously ruled laws prohibiting marriages between African-Americans and Caucasians were unconstitutional. So when the movie came out six months later, the line referred to an obsolete law. But while the political side of the matter may have been solved, the film continued to speak on social thoughts of both white and black Americans.

The film itself has quality acting. Any time a film puts three big names together (Poitier, Hepburn and Tracy), good work will be reflected. Knowing this picture was Hepburn and Tracy’s ninth and final film together makes the movie even more special.

Tracy was so ill during the shooting of the film that the cast and crew shot using two scripts, one with Tracy and one without.

Spencer Tracy died 17 days after wrapping filming. Hepburn never watched the movie because she was too upset about Tracy’s passing.

I finished watching “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and reading chapter 11 and realized how far America has come since 1967. Americans are free to marry anyone they choose. Skin color does not determine who someone is. And look at America’s latest broken barrier — the next president of the United States of America.

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