​Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner guess-whos-coming-to-dinner-538.jpg
Jennifer Matsumoto

Released Date: December 12, 1967
Comedy/drama
Director: Stanley Kramer

Synopsis
In the San Francisco Bay suburban area, Matt (Spencer Tracy) and Christina Drayton (Katharine Hepburn) were informed by their daughter Joanna (Katharine Houghton), that her and John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), a distinguished black doctor with a notable reputation, are engaged after only knowing each other for a course of ten days.The romantic couple’s initiative is to get the blessing from Joanna’s parents before they fly off to New York the same day they arrived to tell them the news. Mrs. Drayton and John’s mother accepts their relationship, but both Mr. Drayton and John’s father are dissatisfied. The two fathers can only find reasons to dissapprove their marriage even when Joanna admits that she'll marry him no matter what. The shocking news has left both families obligated to give them an answer before dinner, but Mr. Drayton is firmly concerned about his daughter’s well-being instead of the love that the couple has for each other. The Drayton's are also liberals that raised their daughter to believe that prejudice is ugly, but this shocking event puts them in a complex position where their nonconventional beliefs are being tested.
The film is a focus on miscegenation during a time in which interracial marriage was illegal in majority of the states. When interracial marriage was considered highly taboo in American history, the film still received two academy awards: Best Actress, Katherine Hepburn, and Best Original Screenplay. It was also Spencer Tracey’s last act in film. Spencer and Hepburn had to stay behind in Los Angeles while the rest of the film crew went to San Francisco to film shots of the bay. It was only seven days later that Spencer died after filming the movie.

My Review
At the time of its release, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by Stanley Kramer immediately raises mind-boggling questions during its time about interracial marriage. Kramer introduced the audience with the unexpected sensitive subject that many still frown upon, but it came to no surprise that Kramer created a flawless character and specific elements so that the audience would not have any reason to oppose their marriage besides their own prejudice. The film targeted predominately liberals and African Americans because the purpose of the film was to question the unthinkable. Of course parents would accept Dr. Prentice without any hesitation if he was white; but considering that he’s not why wouldn’t he be acceptable? What other reasons besides the obvious will parents disapprove of their relationship? Even though the film was released during a time of bewilderment, it prompted a graphic impression that more change was still to come and it was inevitable. I thought this film embarked on a revolutionary point in time when the height of the civil rights movement was finally challenged as well as the Drayton’s. The Drayton’s are liberals that never thought that one day their daughter would marry a black man and the narrative of this film focused most of it’s attention on Mr. Drayton struggling to make a decision. However, Mr. Drayton was patronized through the night for being a hypocrite even by his best friend. His performance, among others, was highly exceptional because no one came realize that if he was to object to the marriage his excuse could have been the age gap. There was a 14 year age difference between the couple, but Kramer kept the focus on the hypocrisy as well as the racial issue; it was overlooked. When Mr. Drayton finally comes to reason that their marriage should be about love and happiness and not about what others think, it was a sense of relief. If he would have said otherwise, the film would convey a poor message that there still hasn’t been any revolutionary change which in fact it has; it’s just that many are in denial and not accepting change because of bigotry.

Academic Analysis
The Drayton’s are two all-white American liberals that never fell into the conventional norms, but their initial reaction proves that there still existed some form of prejudice that lies beneath their nonconventional beliefs. The Drayton’s raised their daughter to believe that any form of prejudice is ugly, but they were not prepared for their daughter to marry a black man. Their discomfited shocked did not worry Joanna. She was expecting them to be surprised, but also happy for her. As young as she is, John was fully aware that her parents may not be as accepting as Joanna said they would be. While Joanna sees no difference in their race and the problems it may create, John felt the need to coherently explain that if they don’t receive their approval then there won’t be any marriage at all. Joanna is oblivious to the terms he created with Matt and Christina, but this agreement put them into a situation where their decision will determine Joanna’s happiness forever. When Joanna first told the news to her mother Christine, she was speechless, but she couldn’t neglect the love and happiness she saw in her daughter. It wasn’t long until Christine embraced the couple and Joanna remained optimistic while others were struggling with the idea such as the Hillary, the snobby woman that works for Christine. Kramer wanted to emphasize racism in various levels in the film. For instance, Hillary was amazed that Joanna would marry a black man and she delivered her disapproval by being overly nice and judgmental. It was obvious that beneath her character there was racism, and as a result, it lead Christine firing her; a humorous moment indeed. Mr. Prentice and Tillie the housemaid are symbolic figures of racism within the African American community of their generation where they think of themselves as a black man and as a black woman. While John and his father, Mr. Prentice, were arguing in the study room John pointed out that he sees himself as a “man” and not a black man that his father expects him to be. Mrs. Prentice however, is more pragmatic who sees two people in love overlooking their race. Monsignor Ryan, Matt’s best friend, was the voice of reason and Kristine was the voice of emotion. They both argued to Matt that even though that there are logical reasons for them not to get married, it is not enough reason to deny that they love each other and that Joanna will fight him. Kramer’s intention was to have people to take another look at racism and then later, at themselves. Every element of the film emphasized racism in different dimensions starting from the cab driver giving the couple dirty looks from his rear-view mirror, snobbish Hillary, Tillie the house maid who is also black, the young hot-rodder offending Matt for being a “stupid old white man”, and the young white delivery boy and the part-time housekeeper dancing together to the van. When Matt finally came to his decision after talking to Mrs. Prentice, he made a breathtaking speech that contradicted every one involved in the situation. Their marriage shouldn’t depend on the blessing of parents when it should be about love and happiness that Matt forgot about years ago. He concluded that they better be ready for the problems they are about to face, even for Joanna being as naïve as she is, it will be difficult to tackle, but if they love each other then it doesn’t matter. The decision marked a huge awareness for the audience that a political statement has been made.

Books
Vera, Hernán, and Andrew Gordon. Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.This book brings together liberalism and patriarchy in the project of making Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. In particular, the book argues that this film was mere expression liberalism and the problems that exist in racism especially among white people. It talks about the tone and various messages that the film offers to the audience. The book also touches on revolutionary movements such as the Civil Rights and cultural acceptance, but it criticizes how the plot of the film used these elements to create a political message, such as the characters and specific scenes that Kramer dramatized.

Wartenberg, Thomas E. Unlikely Couples: Movie Romance as Social Criticism. Boulder: Westview Press, 1999.The book illustrates interracial love in a realistic perspective from watching the film. The political references in the film were intentioned for the audience to accept that miscegenation was part of the revolutionary movement. The book has detailed information about each of the core characters and elements that Kramer utilized in order for the film to be a success to something that no one dared to think about. It exemplifies family roles, norms, and the reality of the situation if it were to ever or if it did occur. The book argued that the film was political statement, but a fantasy that contradicts the story.

Wartenberg, Thomas E., and Angela Curran. The Philosophy of Film: Introductory Text and Readings. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. The book argues about liberal integration in the film. It made significant arguments about how interracial marriage during the film’s release was an awakening to the audience that were about to be faced with a different perspective of racism. The book illustrates exactly what the film entails besides the obvious. Instead of focusing about interracial love, it focuses on the hypocrisy that exists among the characters and the narrative.

Academic Journals


Harris, Glen A., and Robert Brent Toplin. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?: A Clash of Interpretations Regarding Stanley Kramer’s Film on the Subject of Interracial Marriage.” The Journal of Popular Culture. Blackwell Publishing, 2007.This article is an emphasis on interracial relations portrayed in Stanley Kramer’s film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The author argues that the issues regarding bigotry and racism were poorly constructed in the film. It was merely a medium expression of prejudice when Kramer had full potential to make the film more powerful than the way it was delivered.

Knight, Deborah, and George McKnight. “Whose Genre Is It, Anyway? Thomas Wartenberg on the Unlikely Couple Film.” Journal of Social Philosophy. Blackwell Publishing, 2002.This article criticizes Thomas Wartenberg’s philosophy on romantic plots of unlikely couples. Wartenberg suggested that romance is a genre for film and in particular, the romance between unlikely couples. The article argues that romance in film is part of the mainstream effect of any film; it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a genre itself. It also argues that the content of Wartenberg’s book is not even a focus on romance drama; it is primarily a close analysis of various films that portray racism, gender, class, and sexual orientation.

Levine, Andrea. “Sidney Poitier’s Civil Rights: Rewriting the Mystic of Womanhood in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night.”American Literature. Duke University Press, 2001. The article discusses the positions of African Americans in film during the Civil Rights movement and the devaluation of white women portrayed in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night. It discusses interracial marriage and how people perceive it in both films as opposed to reality, such as the South.


Websites

Erbert, Robert. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Chicago Sun-times. 25, Jan. 1968. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19680125/REVIEWS/801250301/1023. Retrieved November, 2009. This article reviews the film on an entertainment perspective. The author went through several scenes discussing how the central core of the film was not only controversial, but clever as well. In his perspective the film was a masterful piece of comedic entertainment that was constructed beautifully for the purpose of publicizing a controversial issue.
McGillicuddy, Genevieve. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? TCM Overview Article.” TCM.
http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=23790&category=Articles Retrieved November 11, 2009.This is an article that discusses two main significances of the film which was the topic of interracial marriage and Spencer Tracey’s last act. It talks about the relationship between the cast members including the underlying tension between Poitier and Spencer and Hepburn. The film was also the reason for Poitier’s success in the industry as an African American. Spencer and Poitier remain iconic figures of their time.

Stein, Ruthe. “Looking Back at ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’.” San Francisco Chronicle. 28, Feb. 2008.
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/02/28/DDKSV92LA.DTL . Retrieved November, 2009.This article focuses on the problems behind the scenes such as Tracey Spencer’s declining health and the problems that the film will face politically. It includes how the film affected the government and that it made a dramatic move in film. It was the first time that a black man and a white woman had kissed on screen, but Stanley Kramer is widely known for making films with controversial issues that will stir that audience.