95. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

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Movie: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Release Date: December 12. 1967

Director: Stanley Kramer

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katherine Houghton, Beah Richards, Roy E. Glenn, Isabel Sanford.

Tag Lines: “A love story of today.”

Relevance: My maternal Grandmother Josephine, or as I called her – Josie, was a very loving, caring woman. She was also a tough, stubborn, opinionated, no holds back kind of a human being as well. She was on the shyer, introverted side, something I inherited from her, as well as her gastrointestinal issues (thanks Gram), but if you knew here, she was never one to back down in an argument or claim defeat.

Thankfully, I was her favorite grandkid always referring to me as “My Oliver.” I loved and adored her, but boy could she get me riled up. When she would voice her sometimes ignorant and uneducated opinions on social injustices in the world, I would argue with her. We fought about everything from Madonna to ageism. She never took offense though. She would just laugh. I like to think that she was amused and happy to have someone combat her, as everyone else would just let her be. “That’s just Josie” is what I would always hear. Our arguments were loud, but were very brief and always ended with, “That’s my Oliver.”

I have shared the story on this blog before about her comment on there being “too many colored people in the world” (see 105. American History X). Of course that comment, random as it was, triggered one of my common argumentative rants at her. She got me so agitated to the point of me calling her racist and telling her that she is part of the problem in society. She just smiled, laughed and said, “That’s my Oliver.”

One of my very best friends from college happened to be black and would come home with me every once in awhile to get away from the sometimes monotonous college life. On one such visit, my family was having a family cookout in the backyard which included some more distant relatives as well as my maternal Grandparents. I was standing next to Josie when my friend arrived and she said, “Oh, guess who’s coming to dinner.” Now everyone in my family knew that ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ was my Grandmother’s favorite movie of all time. Although I knew the premise I had not seen it at that point in time. I just turned to her and sternly said, “Be good.”

Josie, although I am sure she had some generationally charged racism attached to her, never once treated my friend any differently than my she did my white friends. She would always hug and kiss him, always make him welcome in her home, making lunches and dinners when ever possible and she was always as friendly as can be around him. When he wasn’t around, she always asked about him and told me to tell him hello. Her husband, my Grandfather, treated him the exact same way although he always called him Flip Wilson to his face. My Grandfather was a big Flip Wilson fan, so he saw it as a compliment. Thankfully my friend took it with a laugh and a smile.

Soon after Josie made her ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ reference, I decided to finally watch the movie she had always talked about. I rented it one night by myself and watched the classic 1967 film. The movie was well received by critics when it was released and was a big box office hit becoming the second highest grossing film of that year. It also garnered many nominations that award season including ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Actress and Best Screenplay. I had a feeling I was going to enjoy it, but not to the level that I did.

The movie was the perfect blend of comedy and drama and was beautifully directed and acted across the board. I was completely moved by the story and the thought that this was Josie’s favorite film never once left my mind. I thought that her love for this movie spoke volumes to the kind of person she really was deep down, despite her flares and outbursts of idiocy. I couldn’t help but smile. I also couldn’t wait to tell her that I finally watched her favorite movie and I loved it. When I did, she just smiled.

Josie passed away in 2000 and although I came out of the closet in the middle of 1998, I never once got the chance or courage to tell her I was gay. I knew she would just say that there were “too many gay people in the world” and I wasn’t quite ready for that argument with her. As mentioned before on this blog, I had a difficult time with accepting my orientation. I don’t regret not telling her, but I wish she lived a little longer as my skin grew a little thicker. It wasn’t long after I would have been 100% ready for that argument as I became quite the outspoken gay activist.

I watched ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ every year around my Grandmother’s birthday in late August. It always made me smile and think of her, as if I really needed that incentive. It was one of the best ways I could celebrate her life. In July of 2011, NY state passed Marriage Equality and I had spent most of that summer fighting for my rights as an equal citizen. I used Spencer Tracy’s speech from the end of the movie as a selling point to persuade others that gay men and women didn’t want special rights, we wanted equal rights. That August when I watched the movie, the film meant a little bit something more to me. That was all repeated in 2015 when Marriage Equality finally passed in the United States.

‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ is a very important film for me and one that I watch at least once a year, sometimes more. It is moving, funny and shows that we have grown so much as a society and yet we have so much more to go. Who knows what Josie would have thought about our state of affairs today, but knowing her love for this movie, I am sure she would be on the right side of history.

Today’s Thoughts: “Where John made his mistake I think was in attaching so much importance to what her mother and I might think… because in the final analysis it doesn’t matter a damn what we think. The only thing that matters is what they feel, and how much they feel, for each other. And if it’s half of what we felt- that’s everything. As for you two and the problems you’re going to have, they seem almost unimaginable, but you’ll have no problem with me, and I think when Christina and I and your mother have some time to work on him you’ll have no problem with your father, John. But you do know, I’m sure you know, what you’re up against. There’ll be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled and the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives. 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”! Anybody could make a case, a hell of a good case, against your getting married. The arguments are so obvious that nobody has to make them. But you’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to have a pigmentation problem, and I think that now, 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.”

I love ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.’ I did not watch it in August like I usually do because I knew that it was going to be popping up today as part of this project. Not only did I cry today when I watched, as I cry every time I watch it, but I smiled a lot thinking of Josie. She would be so impressed that her favorite movie was in my top one hundred movies of all time.

There really isn’t a lot more to say about this movie. It is great entertainment and has a pretty important message to boot. Who knew in 2020 we would still be fighting for racial equality, but all I can do is hope and continue to fight. Spencer Tracy’s speech at the end of the film is still one of my favorite cinematic moments ever. There is just something so real about that moment. It is so moving to watch.

‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ is required watching for any one that I invite into my life. I encourage those who have not seen this fine film to do so. You will laugh, you might cry, but you will be entertained. And maybe, just maybe, you will finish with a more open mind than when you started.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Katharine Hepburn (winner). Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen, William Rose (winner), Academy Award for Best Picture (nomination), Academy Award for Best Director, Stanley Kramer (nomination), Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Spencer Tracy (nomination), Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Cecil Kellaway (nomination), Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Beah Richards (nomination), Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Robert Clatworthy, Frank Tuttle (nomination), Academy Award for Best Film Editing, Robert C. Jones (nomination), Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment, Frank DeVol (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Director, Stanley Kramer (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Actress – Drama, Katharine Hepburn (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Actor – Drama, Spencer Tracy (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, Beah Richards (nomination), Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer – Female, Katharine Houghton (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, William Rose (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Actor, Spencer Tracy (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Actress, Katharine Hepburn (winner), BAFTA UN Award, Stanley Kramer (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay, William Rose (nomination), Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Stanley Kramer (nomination), National Film Registry (2017), New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor, Spencer Tracy (nomination), Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Drama, William Rose (nomination), Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Original Screenplay, William Rose (nomination).

Ways to Watch: Vudu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, DVD Availability.

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