|Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2017-03-24 19:53Z by Steven|
Justin Gomer, Assistant Professor of American Studies
California State University, Long Beach
Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Photo: Columbia Pictures.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, starring the iconic Sidney Poitier. During the 1960s, when the film was released, Hollywood produced few movies about the political activism that comprised the civil rights movement. Instead, the movie industry turned to Sidney Poitier to offer representations of black middle-class respectability and colorblind racial discourse in hopes of changing the hearts and minds of whites across the country. Yet, Hollywood’s most celebrated civil rights drama debuted three years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and two years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, amid a very different political climate. The film’s premiere in December 1967 was fourteen months after Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, and nearly eighteen months after Stokely Carmichael, director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, began making calls for “Black Power.” James Baldwin, writing in July 1968, noted the contradiction between Hollywood’s images of black respectability vis-à-vis Poitier’s roles and the desires of the burgeoning Black Power movement, “white Americans appear to be under the compulsion to dream, whereas black Americans are under the compulsion to awaken.”
The 2016 Hollywood year wrapped up a few Sundays ago with the Academy Awards. While the record six black actor nominations and the Best Picture Oscar for the black queer film Moonlight is reason to celebrate, Baldwin’s assessment of the movie industry endures. Indexing Hollywood’s “diversity problem” strictly to volume fails to fully comprehend the movie industry’s problematic relationship with black lives broadly, and with black history explicitly…
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