An unexpected dinner guest

-A A +A
By Kelly Dolejsi

“Your daughter is optimistic – she thinks our child will be president of the United States,” says Sidney Poitier’s character, Dr. John Wade Prentice, in the classic film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

In 1967, the line stood out because of the complete improbability that a child of an interracial marriage would ever be elected president.

The line stands out today because we have reached the time when a child of John and his fianceé Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton) might have come of age – and we now know Joanna could have been right. Radical optimism was not so crazy.

It’s a great year to watch, or to re-watch, this movie.

In case you don’t know the story, or in case it’s been a few years, I’ll sum  it up: Joanna and John fly to San Francisco to surprise her parents. Not only do her parents not know she’s back from Hawaii, but they have no idea she met a man while she was away, that she plans to marry that man and that the man is black.

The Draytons are rich and white, but they’re not stupid, reactionary or outwardly racist. They raised their daughter to share their liberal views and to treat all humans equally. Yet, throughout the movie, they struggle to believe their own teachings.

Mesa Public Library’s screening of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is part of its food-themed season of the Free Film Series, but don’t let the title and its place is this season’s lineup mislead you. The only food that actually gets eaten is fresh Oregon boysenberry sherbert and honestly, even the sherbert is not about sherbert.

It’s intellectualism, the thought that obviously went into creating each line of dialogue and the directness with which the characters confront their own views of race that dominate every second.

It’s Katharine Hepburn playing Joanna’s mother. It’s Spencer Tracy playing Joanna’s father –  and Tracy’s eight-minute near-monologue at the film’s conclusion.  

It’s an incredible cast, a timely plot (then and today) and a saturating smartness that the Ashton Kutcher/Bernie Mac sequel didn’t even try to emulate. It’s the kind of film that offers something to every generation: the old who can’t let go of the world they  know, even if they always wanted it to change; the young, who don’t know the world yet because they haven’t yet created it for themselves; and for those in-between, who remember being young, fear being old and understand that the world is never finished – it’s an amazing collaboration some of us are always trying to make better.

Mesa Public Library will present “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room theater. Next up in the Free Film Series will be “Fried Green Tomatoes” on Jan. 7, “Big Night” on Feb. 4 and “Diner” on March 4.

The series is made possible by Friends of the Library and is co-sponsored by the Los Alamos Arts Council.

For more information, call 662-8240 or visit www.losalamosnm.us/library.

Kelly Dolejsi is a member of the Los Alamos Arts Council.