Our Children Will Be President
For most of the audience, this was the first time we were seeing this movie. Ken reminded us that when the film was made, interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states. Check out this legal map which shows which states banned interracial marriage from 1662-1967. Also, the stars of the film, all Oscar winners, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, and Katharine Hepburn, were Hollywood royalty and so their taking on this politicized subject would have been well noticed.
The audience pointed out that the film was constructed to focus solely on race. For example, any class differences or other issues that parents may be concerned about regarding their children's marriage prospects were non-existent in this story so that any objection to the marriage was clearly about one thing: racial difference. For today's audience, the young woman, Joey Drayton, was a frustratingly dated character - for example, watch this clip where she says she'll be important too when she marries Dr. Prentice, since he's an important man. The audience was frustrated that she was portrayed as just a woman in love, lacking political awareness and with an almost blind optimism and ignorance of racial injustice. Ken pointed out that Joey represented the youthful optimism of the 1960s, in contrast to the couple's parents who had lots of worries about how an interracial couple would be received socially, fearing they would be ostracized. Watch this clip where Joey's father asks Dr. Prentice, "Have you given any thought to the problems your children are going to have?" Dr. Prentice responds that Joey thinks their children will be president of the United States - add to that the fact that Joey and Dr. Prentice met in Hawaii and this film is oddly prescient!
The two mothers (Katharine Hepburn and Beah Richards) come around more quickly to supporting the interracial marriage than the two fathers (one of whom seems never to come around) and this too seemed dated in terms of gender roles - that the women were immediately swayed by emotion and love while the men remained worried with their "reasonable" concerns. One woman, Tillie, the Drayton's housekeeper played by Isabel Sanford (who went on to star in The Jeffersons), continued to oppose the marriage. Tillie seems to disapprove of the youth of the day in general - watch this clip (it's got good dance moves).
The audience agreed that one of the most powerful moments in the film was Dr. Prentice's speech to his father where he tells him he will never understand because the generational difference is too big: "You and your whole lousy generation believes that the way it was for you is the way it's got to be!" - watch the full clip here.
The film ends with an impactful speech by Joey's father, Matt Drayton, and while we were happy to see him come around to supporting the marriage, today’s audience was irked that the white man has the final word in the film, making it seem like his opinion is the most important. Mr. Prentice also opposed the marriage but he doesn’t get a chance to speak his mind at the end and we don’t know if he was convinced or still disapproves.
This event was hosted at the Brooklyn Historical Society on March 11, 2012.
All photos by Willie Davis for the Brooklyn Historical Society, 2012.