Jan. 23, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 8

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    Doc Films presents: Poitier series that addresses racial integration, conflict

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    On Sunday evenings during this Winter Quarter, movie fans will have a chance to see some of the most important films of the civil rights era.

    Doc Films, the University’s independent student film society, is profiliork of Hollywood legend Sidney Poitier, the first black artist to win a best actor Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Screenings in the Doc Films series, which has been titled “Sidney Poitier and the Civil Rights Era,” are at 7 p.m. on Sundays in the Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall. Admission is $4.

    The series is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture.

    The Doc series focuses on Poitier at the height of his career, said Terri Francis, a graduate student in English Language & Literature, and the Doc programmer who conceived of the series. But, said Francis, the series is not intended as a celebration of Poitier’s greatest work, but “to offer a forum and a context for rediscovering his films along with independent features and shorts from that era that also address issues of racial integration and conflict.”

    The series began with a showing of the 1951 film Cry, the Beloved Country, and continues with a screening of the 1949 film Intruder in the Dust, an adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel about politics in the South. On Sunday, Jan. 26, Doc will show the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, released one year after the Supreme Court overturned public school segregation. In this film, Poitier portrays a physically fit and mentally robust youth who has little regard for authority.

    Other highlights of the series include the Sunday, Feb. 2 showing of The Defiant Ones, a 1958 Stanley Kramer film in which Poitier is teamed with Tony Curtis. The two actors portray convicts who escape from a prison in the rural South while chained together.

    Lilies of the Field, featuring Poitier’s Oscar-winning performance as a reluctant handyman living among nuns in the Southwest, continues the series on Sunday, Feb. 9. In the Heat of the Night, a Norman Jewison murder mystery that won five Oscars, including best picture, in 1967, will be shown Sunday, Feb. 23.

    The series concludes Sunday, March 9, with a showing of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? In this 1967 classic, Poitier plays a black physician who is engaged to the daughter of two liberal parents, played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

    Above is a scene from Lilies of the Field, the film for which Sidney Poitier won an Oscar.
    The movie will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Trea Russworm, a graduate student in English Language & Literature and coordinator of the Race Film Study Group, and a co-presenter of the series.

    In an effort to provide viewers with some historical context, Francis said, three of the Poitier films will be preceded by showings of short films. For instance, newsreel footage showing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech will precede the screening of Lilies of the Field, and a short film, featuring members of the Black Panther party and produced by a Black Panther filmmaker, will precede the showing of In the Heat of the Night.

    Francis, who grew interested in Poitier’s career after watching him receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at last year’s Academy Awards ceremony, said she hopes the series will “restage the debate” about Poitier films.

    While Poitier was the biggest black star of his era, (an article in the New York Times once posed the question: “Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So?”) he was seemingly, Francis said, “somewhat alienated from much of the African-American community. His characters addressed the race issue, but he wasn’t militant enough for the black power movement,” she added.

    The coupling of the short film Black Panther aka Off the Pig (1968) with In the Heat of the Night during the Feb. 23 screening illustrates this contrast, said Francis. “There was a big split in attitudes in the black community,” she said. “Black Panther films and Poitier films don’t go together. Period.”

    To obtain a listing of all the films scheduled for showing during this series, call the 24-hour Doc film line at (773) 702-8575 or visit the Doc Web site: http://docfilms.uchicago.edu/.