The weekend after the US elections, I had piles of fabrics to sort and pack away from a family wedding. So I flicked on the TV on the off-chance there might be something interesting to accompany my task. The film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was about to start, and given the events of that week (guess who’s president) it made perfect watching.
It’s about a young woman who arrives home unexpectedly, bringing with her the man she plans to marry. Being from a liberal family she doesn’t for a second think that there will be an issue with the fact that she is white and he is black. But the film was made in 1967, in the US, when such marriages were still illegal in 17 states.
Sidney Poitier plays the fiancé, a renowned doctor working with poverty in Africa – a no-brainer in terms of sympathy – but intended by the film makers to make the issue of race the only hurdle to the parental approval which he insists on. The film has had its critics, and certainly carries stereotypes. But watching it in a week when it seems that bigotry is more popular than experience, the lines spoken by Spenser Tracy (warning: spoiler!) have a particular resonance. He speaks of the reality the couple will face, including extreme disapproval from many people, and says:
“You could try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fears, but where necessary you’ll just have to cling tight to each other and say “screw all those people”! …….. no matter what kind of a case some bastard could make against your getting married, there would be only one thing worse, and that would be if – knowing what you two are and knowing what you two have and knowing what you two feel- you didn’t get married”.
A timely message sent from 50 years ago.
And checking the facts for this blog, I was sad to discover that Spenser Tracy died shortly after completing the film, and was ill when making it. He was being cared for by his long-time partner, Katherine Hepburn, who plays his wife in the film, and who was with him when he died, but who, in deference to family feeling (Tracy never divorced his wife) didn’t attend his funeral. In a week when part of me feels like giving up, the fact that Tracy produced something so powerful – and entertaining – at the very end (with support), also acts a reminder that we can be resilient and keep moving forward, even with the rug pulled from under us.
Many of us have been working for a better world for all. A Saturday afternoon’s TV has reminded me that by supporting each other, and refocussing on all that needs to be done, we pick ourselves up and get on with it.