This week, Al Sharpton will be coming to Akron to morally assist Kelley Williams-Bolar in her case. Sharpton, known for his orative prowess as much as his political activism again will be a guest to our state and bring to light the non-discussed issue of how race plays a role in social injustices like this case. Of course, in this time of uncivil political discourse, he is more seen as an agitator seeking spotlight than an active, vital voice in our democratic society. Of course, Sharpton and other prominent African American political figures try to encourage discussion of race in a society that refuses to acknowledge that it exists outside of statistics and misconceptions. These attitudes are not strange for our times. Let’s rewind to 1967.
In 1967, an aspect of what made the times politicality civil amidst a changing political atmosphere was the dinner table. Families and friends would sit down at the dinner table and talk about what is going on in the world around them. People would disagree and argue their point, and at the same time, would be so kind to pass the platters. People still ate three meals a day and would show respect in the action of passing food, condiments, or otherwise. Politics could be discussed no matter the subject matter, and attitudes would be revealed, tested, and signified. Of course, this is not the same rallying cry for the family dinner that makes networks a few bucks and politicans more appealing. This is an introduction to a timeless classic that does not get enough credit that it is due that deals a lot with dinner table politics.
The movie is Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. The stars: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Beah Richards, Roy Glenn, Cecil Kellaway, Isabel Sanford, and Katharine Houghton. The concept: a white collegiante woman, played by Houghton, comes home with the news that she is engaged and plans to marry a doctor who works for the United Nations, played by Sidney Poitier, and wants to know what their parent’s opinions are before going through with it. It leads to a discussion on race in America at all the angles surronding interracial love. Spencer Tracy plays a white liberal editor of a newspaper who has written passionately about fairness and equality, is tested at this reality that two people of two different races could love each other. Katharine Hepburn plays a patrician and wife to Tracy, who is tested in that she sees the love that is there and is trying to make everyone see around her that it is that love that matters more. Beah Richards plays Poitier’s mother who also recognizes this, and Roy Glenn plays Poitier’s father who sees more of Tracy’s character’s side. The reality of their union and the social effects are discussed at length. Both Tracy and Glenn’s characters see that life will not be easy for their children, and wonder if they are strong enough to withstand it, but both do not want to see their children hurt and are protective. This film came out right after the Supreme Court made a decision that no states can illegalize interracial love, and while Washington at the time showed significant racial progress, society had to get used to this of many other changes made during that progressive decade. This movie brought race in America to the national dinner table discussers, which Hollywood was fastly coming the place where this and other controversial subjects were brought to light for dramatic interpretation and insight. The amazing thing about this movie is how civil in discussion this is. There are no talking heads telling people how to think, there are no angry swearing or any melodramatic gestures, just people of all different backgrounds of perspective coming together to discuss an issue. Maybe that is why people find it dated, because of the way it is handled.
Modern day viewers are confused at the civility of the discussion, and after years of uncivil discourse, a modern movie would probably not handle it to great length. In 2005, it was remade as a comedy starring the late Bernie Mac in the Spencer Tracy role and Ashton Kutcher filling Sidney Poitier’s shoes, and the message is lost amongst cheap gags. But, the movie offers a solution to two of our current national problems, the inability to discuss race and the inability to sit down and discuss one’s day at the dinner table. Maybe it is time for us to sit down and talk to each other without the cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet as means to communicate. The author bets that maybe, civility in political discussion isn’t far within our reach.