The 1967 Oscar Nomination Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Is Like Most Art – It Was Ahead of Its Time

I have just re-watched the 1967 Oscar Nomination for Best Picture, and I am stunned at how much more brilliant and prophetic that the movie is than I remembered it. I graduated from high school in 1968, and I grew up in the South. I did see the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner when it was released, and I must admit that when I first saw it, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

I have always considered myself to be fairly liberal–especially for a Southerner who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, but for many years, the idea of interracial marriage was a bit too much for me. I was not a mean bigot, but I was a product of the time and place of my growing up. I simply considered marriage to an African American to be above and beyond what was acceptable. When I initially watched the movie, my own biases prevented me from seeing how great the film is.

Almost half a century later, I have just watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner again, and I am stunned by the performances in the movie. Katherine Hepburn did win an Oscar for Best Actress for the film, and she deserved it. I found her emotion to be real and extremely appropriate for how a parent would have reacted to the idea of her daughter’s pending marriage at that time to a person of the African-American race.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner explored the problems that a young, interracial couple would have faced in 1967. They were real concerns, and I am pleased that the movie raised the issues when it did.

I did not realize it until now, but the lady who played Poitier’s mother is from Vicksburg, MS. Before I moved to New Jersy, I lived in Mississippi for 35 years. Beah Richards would have been fully aware of how Mississippians would have been shocked by a white girl’s having married an African-American man in 1967. It was only five years earlier that the National Guard camped on the Ole Miss campus to protect James Meredith, as he became the first African-American to attend the school. A year after the movie was released, Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis, TN, which is only a few miles North of the Univerity of Mississippi.

We tend to forget many of the unfortunate parts of our nation’s history, and as I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner tonight, I thought that it might be good to remind all of us of how much progress that we have made since 1967–and also to admit that we have not completely won the war for Civil Rights.

I salute the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. In hindsight, I wonder if the movie should not have won the Oscar for Best Picture that year.

©Jacki Kellum February 20, 2016

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