At the height of the civil rights movement in 1967, Sidney Poitier defied the odds with his role in “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.”
Earlier this month, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment commemorated the film’s 50th anniversary with the release of a special edition Blu-ray disc. Directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy, the controversial film ― released six months following the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision that legalized interracial marriage ― follows a liberal San Francisco couple’s introduction to their daughter’s distinguished black fiancé.
Fifty years after its release, Poitier’s daughter, Beverly Poitier-Henderson tells HuffPost that the motion picture was groundbreaking for its portrayal of how African-Americans and interracial families were accepted in American society.
“I think that it was very telling for the writer to create the characters that he did, so that white America could relate to the situation I think in a more humane way,” Poitier-Henderson said during an interview with HuffPost. “Everybody believes that the character he (Poitier) played and the characters of the family were very relatable. So I think that was very unique and powerful during that time.”
Following its December 1967 release, the film became one of Columbia Pictures highest grossing theatrical features to date, amassing critical success with, 10 Oscar nominations and two wins. The comedy-drama was also influential of revamping how films featuring black characters and themes were marketed to mainstream audiences ― specifically in southern states, according to IMDB.
The film’s critical acclaim also contributed to Poitier becoming the biggest box office drawing actor of any color in 1967 after starring in three of the years top-grossing films at age 40. The year also cemented the Oscar award winner as the first black actor to have his hand and footprints immortalized at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Despite his cultural milestones, Poitier was faced with criticism from the black community, as he was labeled an “Mister Tom/Uncle Tom” for what some viewed as pandering to a white audience.
“I lived through people turning on me. It was painful for a couple years,” he recalled of the criticism during an interview in the October 2000 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. “I was the most successful black actor in the history of the country. I was not in control of the kinds of films I would be offered, but I was totally in control of the kinds of films I would do. So I came to the mix with that power ― the power to say, ‘No, I will not do that.’”
Poitier added that his trailblazing roles in films such as “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” were instead chosen to make a statement about society’s much overlooked prejudices.
“What the name-callers missed was that the films I did were designed not just for blacks but for the mainstream,” he said. “I was in concert with maybe a half-dozen filmmakers, and they were all white. And they chose to make films that would make a statement to a mainstream audience about the awful nature of racism.”
The legendary actor’s knack for maintaining his integrity by avoiding stereotypical, one-dimensional characters is one of the many traits Poitier-Henderson has always found honorable about her father.
“They were all based on the principle that they had to reflect well on him, his family, and his father’s name. And I think it’s a big lesson to learn in life,” she told HuffPost.
“I appreciate that and I admire him for doing that, because if he hadn’t, I think it would’ve took a lot longer for us to get where we are today as far as African-American films and more integrated storylines. It was the first time I think that white America got to see a better representation of African Americans.”
The special 50 anniversary edition of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” is now available at stores and digital retailers.