What do they call you? Well, if they call you Mr. Tibbs, watch out. One of the many films of the 1950s and 60s that Sidney Poitier did about race, this one would have to be the best…mostly since it is by far the most powerful. With the films The Defiant Ones (1958) and A Patch of Blue (1965), Poitier had cemented himself as one of the finest actors in American cinema – black or white. With this film, made in 1967 and directed by Norman Jewison, Poitier takes his acting to the next level…sheer power and passion. Also in 1967, he made another “race” based classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. That film, though emotional, does not hit at the anger and the murderous rage that racial issues bring out in some people…especially some from the mid-20th Century South, where In the Heat of the Night is based.

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One of the best novels of the 20th Century is wonderfully adapted into one of the best films of the century, as well. Talk about a rarity! Many adaptations, especially those of well-received books, fall far from the mark usually. Either they are generally not good, or they are edited so much that the book’s story is hardly recognizable. In this faithful adaptations, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale stays true…mostly because of the vivid performances, especially by Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Peck won his only Oscar for his portrayal as the Southern Gentleman who is both a lawyer who defends innocent, yet African American, Tom Robinson and also the father of Scout and Jem Finch. Wonderfully directed and shot as well… the fictional town Lee created of Maycomb, Georgia really comes to life as a conflicted small-town. And the mood of the era…the 1930s…is also captured. Racism was rampant during these years…especially in the South. Southerners were still bitter over the Civil War and still saw Blacks as slaves. An almost-perfect interpretation of one of the more perfect books of American literature.

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What is it about this movie that makes me so uncomfortable? Is it the continual mentioning of racial issues? Is it Selina, who is visually handicapped? Is it the way Selina’s mother treats her? Well, it is all of the above…and more. This film is a striking piece of 1960s cinema…in the heart of the Civil Rights era, it demonstrates much of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others preached…that we are all human—black, white or whatever. It also shows how truly colorblind love (all kinds of love) can be. Selina plays a very emotional abused and used blind girl who happens to encounter a distinguished Black man one day in the park. She, of course, cannot see that he is Black. He can see that she is White, but befriends her since he feels completely sorry for the situation she lives in. Yes…a Black man feeling sorry for a White girl in the 1960s. Well, like I said, this movie is about being truly BLIND to color. It’s about the human condition and the soul of a person, rather than the race. The platonic love Sidney Poitier’s character feels toward Selina has nothing to do with her being White. And, the romantic love Selina feels toward Poitier has absolutely nothing to do with his color, since she doesn’t even know what he looks like. A fabulous film about how racial and social situations matter very little compared to matters of the heart.

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Sometimes a movie comes and changes your world. I would like to say that this movie made me a better person, but I think that would be a fantasy. It did, though, move me. It reaffirmed my faith in movies and moviemaking and acting. No action here. No sex. No blockbuster styling or CGI. Just a touching story that is perfectly acted, simply directed, and one of the best movies I have seen all year…if not even longer than that. The main character here is Walter, a stuck-in-a-rut Connecticut college professor and widower who craves some “music” (meant both figuratively and literally) in his life. We see him in the beginning taking piano lessons. He’s not that good…but we can tell he wants to keep trying. He is a complacent person who we can tell is looking for something. But, what? He is so complacent he even balks at going to NYC to deliver a paper he co-authored (though he had little to do with it, apparently). In NYC, he finds a couple living in his apartment. This couple is Walter’s salvation. They are the “music” he has been looking for. I’m making it sound like Walter’s change is overnight. It is not. He’s a middle-aged man who is set in his ways and it takes time and energy to get him out of his rut. Though Walter’s transformation is a positive change, this movie does not paint everything in a rose-colored light. This is a tough world…dirty and stark. Walter’s awakening is just one ray of sunshine. But, what a ray it is! If there is a movie to change your world, this one just might be it.

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No Way Out is a hard film for me to watch. It is raw and unrelenting in its depiction of racism in the 1950s. The n-word is tossed around very casually and other derogatory words and stereotypes as well. So, wondering why I love this film so much? Well, just as it’s tough to watch, it is also essential to watch, especially for someone like myself who did not grow up with that level of intense racism. This film teaches tolerance and acceptance. It shows that the difference between black and white (or whichever color) are inconsequential and even non-existent. For its time, this must have been a much more shocking film that it even is today…I mean I was “shocked” at some of the racist language, etc. but in 1950, I’m assuming the level of shock was concerning different aspects of the film. Like the fact that Sidney Poitier plays a doctor. Black physicians are commonplace now, but in the early 50s, I’m sure they were not filling the halls of medical schools. The message of this film is essential, though, so matter what your shock value, try your best to put it aside. It’s a must-see example on how ignorance and intolerance can drive a person to ruin and about how a by-gone era and mentality (thankfully) viewed successful African Americans and the people who persecuted them.

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