Friday, January 16, 2015

A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun
seen on TV @ TCM

So A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway last year, and after seeing the film version again, I kinda wish I had seen it live as well. Denzel Washington might be too old for the part, but I have absolutely no problem imagining him stepping into Sidney Poitier's shoes. The revival did very well: it won three Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Play, and even the President and First Lady went to see it.

Raisin is a play that has enjoyed a long shelf life, being adapted for film and television, being remade into a musical, even inspiring spin-offs: the Pulitzer Prize-winner Clybourne Park and Beneatha's Place, a play inspired both by Park and Raisin.

It's been around for so long that people forget that it was inspired by an actual legal case experienced first-hand by its author, Lorraine Hansberry. She was born in Chicago, where Raisin takes place, and as a child, she and her family moved to a white neighborhood where they were violently harassed by the residents. 

They refused to move, however, and went to court to defend their right to stay. In 1940, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against them, but the decision was overturned by the US Supreme Court, and Hansberry v. Lee established the precedent that made it illegal for whites to keep blacks out of neighborhoods. 

Raisin fictionalized the story, peppered with Hansberry's ideas about things like racial identity and religion and at 29, she became the first black woman to write a Broadway play. Poitier, Claudia McNeil as the mother, and Ruby Dee as Poitier's wife, all starred in the original stage version, and they all appeared in the film as well. Hansberry got to write the screenplay, but it took her three drafts before Columbia was willing to film it. (Movie Morlocks has the story of some of the details behind the making of the film version, some of which will really surprise you.)

What I love about Raisin is that while race is a crucial element of the story, it's not the whole story. Poitier's Walter Lee has big dreams, but feels constrained, not only by the larger world, but by his own family, who doesn't always understand what it is he's after in life. There's a great deal of anger, frustration and tension within the family, but there's love as well, even if it isn't always expressed as openly or as often.

I watched this with my mother, and FINALLY, I picked a movie that she's not only heard of, but she has seen. More than once, in fact! She loves Poitier, and she surprised me when she said that she had seen Raisin co-star Diana Sands on Broadway long ago, in The Owl and the Pussycat. My father took her to see it.


  1. I happened across this on TCM the other night when the sound was off, and even with no dialogue it was completely arresting. We read the play when I was in Jr, High School (mid '70s) and I thought it was very powerful.

  2. No sound, huh? Maybe it has to do with the way Poitier moves. He uses his whole body in this role, in a way that comes across as quite theatrical.


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