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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer, 1967, 108min.)
Linda DeLibero, senior lecturer and special advocate for alumni and outreach, and former director of the JHU film and media studies program
Fearful of audience reaction to the still-risky subject of interracial romance, director Stanley Kramer and screenwriter William Rose created a Black male partner for their white female protagonist (played by Katherine Hepburn’s niece, Katharine Houghton) so spectacularly unobjectionable that they realized no one but Sidney Poitier could play him. Luckily, he accepted the role—largely for the chance to work with screen legends Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy—and the rest is history. Today, when marriages routinely cross all kinds of boundaries, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner stands as a fascinating document of its time, and of Hollywood’s complicated relationship with race during the incendiary late 1960s. Poitier is indeed impeccable here, but despite Kramer’s fears, the film is probably best remembered not for its controversial subject but because it featured the last onscreen coupling of longtime offscreen romantic partners Tracy and Hepburn, who play purportedly liberal white parents confronted with a true test of their progressive ideals when their daughter brings home a Black fiancé. Tracy, gravely ill during the production, and Hepburn, at the height of her powers, miss no chance to steal every scene in which they appear. Tracy died a mere 17 days after the film wrapped and garnered a posthumous Best Actor nomination for his role. Hepburn won the Oscar for Best Actress, her second of four (a record yet to be broken).
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