Sunday, March 2, 2008

Forty years later, have we made any progress?

As my mother and I reviewed the 40th edition of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? I thought about the first time I saw the original movie. It was the first movie I ever saw in color. Also, it was the first movie my father took us to see at the drive-in.

Yes, I said the drive-in. I know Generation Y, X, Z (whatever they're calling themselves nowadays) don't know anything about the drive-in-which brings to mind the time my mother and I were looking for a copy of the movie for our family library.

We went into Best Buy, Circuit City and Wal-Mart. We purchased the movie at Wal-Mart. No, we didn't have to fish it out of the movie bins they have sprinkled in the back of the store. It was actually on the shelf in one of their display cases.

What was interesting was the associates at these stores had no idea what we were talking about or how to even get a movie from this era. We were asking for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and they kept referring to "Guess Who?" Now that's a generation gap.

Often I watch this movie with my mother, and I get a kick out of her narrating the movie for me as if it's the first time we watched it. She can recite specific scenes as if she wrote the script. So for those of you who are not familiar with the movie, let me enlighten you.

The film tells the story of rich white girl Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton) and prominent black doctor John Prentice (Sidney Poitier). They met on vacation in Hawaii and quickly fell in love. In fact, the movie begins as they come to the San Francisco home of Joey's successful and influential parents Matt (Spencer Tracy) and Christina (Katharine Hepburn).

Although the two consider themselves to be socially progressive, the prospect of this interracial marriage startles both of them-especially Matt. The situation becomes even more entangled when John tells Matt that he won't marry Joey without Matt's blessing, which is complicated further by the couple's insistence that they get hitched immediately. That means Matt has to decide within a few hours, and the scenario gets even more tangled when John's parents (Roy Glenn and Beah Richards) fly up from L.A. to meet their future daughter-in-law.

In 1968 interracial couples were viewed differently than they are today. Or are they? Discrimination against interracial couples goes back to the 17th century, and people would try to back up their prejudices by using references from the Bible. This movie was released just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy were assassinated. During this time, black people were still fighting for equal rights. The person who wished to establish this type of relationship had to deal with frustration from both sides.

Has society really changed? The U.S. Supreme Court, also in 1967, decided one of the most recognized cases in American constitutional history: Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia. Although white and black Americans are far more likely to date and marry within their own race than outside it, the cultural environment has changed considerably since Loving. Mildred Jeter (a woman of African and Rappahannock Indian descent) and Richard Perry Loving (a white man) were residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia who had been married in June of 1958 in the District Columbia, having left Virginia to evade the Racial Integrity Act, a state law banning marriages between any white person and a non-white person. Upon their return to Virginia, they were charged with violation of the ban. In January 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia.

Has society changed in regard to interracial relationship? Interracial couples are still met with resistance. Since the end of the civil rights revolution, interracial dating, interracial sex, and interracial marriage have steadily increased, as has the number of children born of interracial unions. Many people are involved in interracial relationships and they have experienced the same prejudices displayed in the movie. When a man or women of different nationalities decided to introduce their mate to their respective families, they get the same reactions. One parent is willing to accept the relationship and the other one has objections.

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