rubydee

Known for her ground-breaking activism during the Civil Rights era, as well as her equally radical acting career, Ruby Dee died at the age of 91. She was one of the first black actresses to make her mark on Hollywood, along side her husband of over 55 years, Ozzie Davis. In the beginning of her career, as well as working with Davis, she often worked with Sidney Poitier, and later in life, she worked twice with Spike Lee and received her only Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor, in 2007′s American Gangster, directed by Ridley Scott.

Check out these Ruby Dee movies at the Niles Public Library:

America

American Gangster (also on Blu-ray)

Betty and Coretta

Decoration Day

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I think Lilies of the Field is a great movie, though I believe Sidney Poitier has done some better work, even though he won the Oscar for this role. I mean, this is a good movie with a ton of wonderful, uplifting messages, but it is not what I would call powerful like some of Poitier’s other work of this period, such as The Defiant Ones or No Way Out (1950). This one is just a sweet, innocent film about a man who comes across some German nuns and eventually helps them build the chapel they have been praying for. The camaraderie between the nuns and Poitier really “make” the film for me. The sisters do not speak any English and Poitier has a good deal of fun teaching them. It is a heart-warming film that prove Poitier can do it all…even teach a bunch of nuns to speak English!

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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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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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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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