My husband is a film buff and has been reenacting Sidney Poitier's great line "They call me Mr. Tibbs" since I met him 30 years ago, but we finally watched Oscar-Winning Best Picture (1967) In the Heat of The Night together last night. A lot has changed since that film was released, but a lot is exactly the same. My first thought was "This movie needs to be screened again in every movie theater across America! And Before Election Day!"
I was born in 1964 in segregated Durham, North Carolina where my parents were in graduate school at Duke. They were civil rights activists and we continued to work on making America more just when we moved to Tennessee in 1973. I reported on a Pulaski, Tennessee KKK rally opposing Martin Luther King Day for the Vanderbilt student paper when I was a student in the 1980's. My parents told me the only difference was that in their day the KKK marched with guns. In The Heat of The Night is an Excellent depiction of what it was like in the South in the 1960's and before when any sign of self-pride in a Black man was seen an invitation for lynching and girls who got pregnant before they were ready or willing to be mothers were forced into back rooms to have dangerous abortions that could sterilize them or leave them dead on the table. And justice? That was in the hands of racist small town cops who chose who to hang on little or no evidence.
After seeing the film, I needed to do some research on it. If you doubt the realism of the racial hatred depicted in the film, it went on during the filming as well.
"Poitier was worried about shooting on location in Mississippi; during a 1964 visit o Greenville, to deliver $70,000 in donations to civil rights workers, Poitier and Harry Belafonte had been tailed by Klansmen and nearly run off the road. Director Jewison promised Poitier that they wouldn't actually shoot in the South - - a promise he ended up not keeping...Jewison did shoot most of the film outside the South, in Sparta, Illinois, and in surrounding towns...Once the shot was underway, Poitier reluctantly agreed to shoot a key sequence, including the slap scene, in the South, since that sequence needed to be filmed on an actual cotton plantation. The filmmakers prepared to film for three days in Dyersburg, Tennessee. Poitier slept with a gun under his pillow at the Dyersburg Holiday Inn...Poitier's fears turned out to be justified. The Dyersburg shoot was cut short by local thugs looking for trouble and raising a ruckus in the parking lot of the motel. The production quickly fled back to Illinois."
Rod Steiger won Best Actor for his role as the racist Police Chief who comes to respect Poitier's character, a Philadelphia Detective. But Poitier, who makes the film so powerful, was not even nominated.
All of which brings me to the current election and Donald Trump's promise to "Make America Great Again." It appears to those of us who have been on the wronged side of American history and those of us involved in the struggle for American civil rights and women's rights and reproductive freedom that a return to the past is a terrible idea.
Those who have nostalgia for the past in America can only be white males who want power to return to their hands alone. The verbal assaults demonstrated at Trump rallies and encouraged by him, are testament to this fact.
Trump is a bully, a liar, a con man and worse, and would say anything to fan the flames of hatred that have propelled him this far on a wave of anachronistic white power. He even has the KKKs former Imperial Wizard David Duke coming out for office again, elated by the prospects of returning to a power based in racial hatred.
But it's sad to see another film Icon, Clint Eastwood, enter from Stage Right to support Trump. "We're in a pussy generation," Eastwood told Esquire Magazine. "Everybody's walking on eggshells. We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren't called racist... Just f'ing get over it."
True, Clint. As you were born in the 1930's, there was a lot more freedom in your time to say and do whatever you wanted to - if you were a privileged white man. But the racism and sexism (Clint, "pussy generation?") is not just verbal. These attitudes impact our liberties as Americans in terms of REAL ISSUES that we can't just "f'ing get over." Little things like voting rights, workplace discrimination, education rights, reproductive rights, and fair paths to American citizenship.
Should there be a remake of In the Heat of the Night with Clint or Trump as the racist Chief of Police who comes to respect the other? No, the film is perfect as it is. And we should all see it before November when we enter the voting booth to choose between moving forward with our first Woman President Hillary Clinton or racing back into a racist, sexist past with Donald Trump.