Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rant #910: Race to the Finish

While the Supreme Court discusses overturning the gay marriage ban in California--a measure that was voted on by the citizens of that state, and rejected--and the Obama Administration decides whether it wants to file a friend of the court brief supporting gay marriage, let's go back to a different time, when others were fighting for their rights as citizens.

The time was 1967. Civil rights were at the forefront of controversy in this country. Spearheaded by leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, blacks were challenging the establishment to be recognized as full citizens of this country, not token members.

Marches were held from New York City to Selma, Ala., and elsewhere, to ensure that people of color were getting their just due.

Hollywood, with its ultra-liberal notions that exist to this day, was taking notice. There was a natural pairing of the civil rights community and the Hollywood community, and those ties are still strong today, related to other groups looking for equality.

In 1967, a film came out of Hollywood that kind of defined the time period. Even those that weren't strong in their civil rights views embraced the film, and it stands today as a model for getting your point across without hitting your viewers over the head ... well, not too much, anyway.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," directed by Stanley Kramer, the same guy who gave us the monumental farce "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" just a few years earlier, set then-conventional views about matrimony on its ear with this film.

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy play suburban parents--to me, they looked too old to be parents of a young 20-something, more like grandparents--who think they are of the liberal mind, but that thought process is severely tested when their daughter, played by Katharine Houghton, comes home with her fiancee.

He is a good looking guy, smart, versed in all relevant matters of the day, but lo and behold, he is a black man, played by Sidney Poitier.

The entire film is basically a study of four people in some type of conflict related to this situation, and finally, at the end of the film, Tracy, in his last film appearance--and yes, he was also in "Mad, Mad World" as the cop who becomes a con man--makes one of the great Hollywood speeches, this one about race and acceptance.

It raised a question that is still important today: What is a liberal? And it also raised another important question: I believe I am a liberal, but if a certain situation directly affects me, how liberal am I really?

Those questions still reverberate today.

Hepburn won an Oscar for her role, but Tracy really should have won one too, as, well, should have the rest of the cast, and Kramer as director.

But anyway, the music for the film was a whimsical score written by Frank DeVol, who later was the bandleader on another farcical project, this one TV's "Fernwood Tonight."

But for this project, the tune "The Glory of Love" permeates the movie.

The concept of "love" was changing, and who to love was certainly changing, and who one could love was in a metamorphosis.

You didn't have to agree with the concept put forth by the film, but it set out to say what it had to say, and with the musical score as its background, it said it, and said it very, very well.

Just as a side note, the film was remade a few years ago, with the roles reversed, a white guy marrying into a black family. The less said about that film the better.

But this original film, and its thought process, resonates even today, with the current debate on gay marriage at the apex.

I am not going to get into a debate here about the merits or demerits of such a situation, but I will tell you that way back when, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" had a major impact on the way we think, and on acceptance.

I will let you draw your own conclusions on the current situation.

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