Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

AFI Rank: #99
Year Released: 1967
Director: Stanley Kramer
Actors: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier

Filmed in 1967, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner features an all star cast which takes on an issue which still resonates today. A 23 year old Caucasian woman has fallen in love with a 37 year old African-American man. They love each other dearly - but their parents are stuck in the past, wrapped up in prejudices. Mixing in with the group is a priest who is all for the match - and an African-American cook who is strongly against it.

Part of what I had to accept here is that some of the characters were meant to be a bit "extreme" in order to make certain points without having a cast of thousands. Some of the things the maid said struck me as wildly inappropriate, but she was representing the "old school negroes" and speaking their views. She says to Joanna, about her intended husband, "I don't care to see a member of my own race getting above himself." It bothered me a lot, but I had to keep in mind that large blocks of people really had been trained to feel this way.

There's language in here that it bothers me to hear - but again, I have to accept that in a way it's a documentary of the way things were. Joanna asks John if he's told his parents that she's not "a colored girl." She boasts about how she fell in love with a "negro." Hilary, a friend of the mom's, says that Joanna is being "appallingly stupid." The maid snaps at John, calling him, "boy."

It's also a little challenging that they didn't make the relationship one I'd agree with even if race was taken out of it. He's 37 and she's 23 - and they only met 10 days ago? Suddenly they're going to get married after ten days? No matter who was involved, I would say ten days is far too short. They need time to get past that rush of hormones and see if they have something to sustain them for longer than that.

Just as I can fault but understand the maid character for being over-the-top prejudiced, I also find Joanna's character to be over-the-top naive. No matter who color-blind her parents might have raised her, she still grew up in the America of the 1960s. She had to be aware of the issues all around her. If she wasn't, then that's a sign that she's not very intelligent. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that awareness presented for her.

I also was a bit annoyed by John's statement that "of course" they'd have kids because - "and we'll have the children, otherwise I don't know what you'd call it, but you couldn't call it a marriage." Couldn't call it a marriage?? What does that mean for all the infertile couples out there, or people who simply can't or don't want children? That line bothered me a lot. Certainly he could have made his point that he WANTED kids in some other way.

What greatly intrigued me was that they are talking, in 1967, about what these biracial kids will face in life. John jokes that Joanna thinks one might become president some day. This seemed outrageous to them at the time. However, Barak Obama was born in 1961. While they were joking about the never-could-happen chances of this future, Barak was already six years old.

There were many moments in this movie which were great. I love when Joanna's mom fires her racist employee. I love Spencer Tracy's final speech, and it's very sad that the actor died before he could see the finished film.

Well recommended, both for a glimpse into how open prejudices were in the late 60s, and as a reminder that there are still people who feel this way. In a way, I have to agree with John's statement to his father. Some of these issues won't go away until the people who were brought up with them as "absolute truths" pass away.

Male vs Female Actors
This is a fairly unique movie in that it's just about evenly split between male and female actors, and the roles are all very strong. Katharine Hepburn is right up there against Spencer Tracey. Well done!

The Bechdel Test
The entire movie is about the relationship of Joanna and John but there are short conversations about things like dinner that involve the mom and cook, and they are all named, so those count. There are also conversations about race, which are really about their relationship, but it's tangental.

Buy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner from

AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100