A Raisin in the Sun
June 4th, 2022

A Raisin in the Sun [1961]

Please join Cultivate Cinema Circle as we screen six films starring the late, great Sidney Poitier. Fifth up is Daniel Petrie’s BAFTA-nominated (Best Foreign Actor & Best Foreign Actress) film A Raisin in the Sun [1961].

Event Sponsors:

Venue Information:

Downtown Central Library Auditorium
1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, NY 14203
(Enter from Clinton Street between Oak and Washington Streets)
716-858-8900 • www.BuffaloLib.org
COVID protocol will be followed.

TrailerSynopsisActor BioDirector BioLinks

A black family living in a cramped Chicago tenement in the 1940s have the opportunity to improve their social standing via an insurance-policy check, but are in disagreement about how best to spend the windfall. Lorraine Hansberry adapted the script from her hit Broadway play.


  • Cannes Film Festival – 1961 – Winner: Gary Cooper Award
  • National Board of Review – 1961 – Winner: Best Supporting Actress
  • BAFTA Awards – 1962 – Nominee: Best Foreign Actor & Best Foreign Actress
  • Directors Guild of America – 1962 – Nominee: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
  • Writers Guild of America – 1962 – Nominee: Best Written American Drama (Screen)
  • Golden Globes (USA) – 1962 – Nominee: Best Actress – Drama & Best Actor – Drama
  • National Film Preservation Board – 2005 – National Film Registry

“I never had an occasion to question color, therefore, I only saw myself as what I was… a human being.”

Courtesy of TCM:

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” returned Poitier to the familiar turf of “Negro problem” pictures, but with a contemporized twist: instead of battling the unabashed ignorance of racist America, he found himself opposite sophisticated Northerners played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film). The grand old screen duo played an ostensibly enlightened couple who find their liberal sensibilities strained when their daughter brings home her fiancé, an older, divorced doctor, who just happens to be Poitier. Again under Kramer’s direction, the picture parlayed the myriad pitfalls of the stark realities simple “love” still faced, given the country’s darkly drawn racial lines, especially at the zenith of the civil rights movement; the Supreme Court had just that summer struck down 14 Southern states’ standing laws against interracial marriages, and Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated while the film was still in theaters. The film’s heady discourse struck a chord, taking in a for-the-time whopping $56.7 million at the box office in North America.

But Poitier’s most dauntlessly cool performance came in “In the Heat of the Night,” a steamy neo-noir that set Poitier in the heart of the deep South – still so blatantly segregated that Poitier nixed location shooting in Mississippi, prompting the production to move to tiny Sparta, IL. Poitier played a Philadelphia homicide detective, Virgil Tibbs, initially accused of a murder in a hick Mississippi town, who then assists the local Sheriff Gillespie (Rod Steiger) solve the case. Under the deft direction of Norman Jewison, Poitier and Steiger played a dueling character study; a sophisticated black authority the likes of which the town has never seen versus an abrasive, outwardly racist yokel stereotype more enlightened and thoughtful than he lets on. The film also proved a hit, winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor (Steiger).

Poitier’s three films in 1967 made him, by total box-office receipts, the No. 1 box-office draw in Hollywood. And yet, even in the thick of his success, Poitier’s singular identification as the spokesman for African-Americans came with proportionate scrutiny. While he had embraced the civil rights movement publicly – he keynoted the annual convention of Martin Luther King’s activist Southern Christian Leadership Conference in August 1967 – some in the African-American community (as well as some film critics) began vocalizing their displeasure with the never-ending string of saintly and sexless characters Poitier played. Black playwright and drama critic Clifford Mason became the sounding board for these sentiments in an analysis published on the front page of The New York Times’ drama section on Sept. 10, 1967. Mason referred to Poitier’s characters as “unreal” and essentially “the same role, the antiseptic, one-dimensional hero.”

Although devastated by the attacks, Poitier himself had begun to chafe against the cultural restrictions which cast him as the unimpeachable role model instead of a fully flawed and functioning human. Sidney Poitier attempted to take a greater hand in his work, penning a romantic comedy that he would star in called “For the Love of Ivy” (1968), and attempting a more visceral representation of the travails of inner city America in “The Lost Man” (1969), but neither met the success of his previous films or effectively muted his critics. The Times’ Vincent Canby called the latter, “Poitier’s attempt to recognize the existence and root causes of black militancy without making anyone – white or black – feel too guilty or hopeless.” He also founded a creator-controlled studio, First Artists Corp., with partners Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand. But his damaged image, amid an up-and-coming crop of black actors unencumbered by his “integrationist” stigma, enforced a sense of isolation about Poitier, likely amplified by a falling out with his longtime friend Belafonte and his estrangement from wife Juanita.

Some of that oddly went reflected in an unlikely, blaxploitation-infused sequel, “They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!” (1970), in which he reprised his classic character to ill-effect. By 1970, Poitier had struck up a passionate new romance with Canadian model Joanna Shimkus and exiled himself to a semi-permanent residence in The Bahamas. He would make one more forgettable Tibbs sequel, “The Organization” (1971), but he would return to Hollywood in a different capacity.

With Hollywood now recognizing the power of the black purse, even for cheaply produced “blaxploitation” pictures, Columbia saw the potential for “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), in which Harry Belafonte and Poitier would play mismatched Western adventurers who team up to save homesteading former slaves from cowboy predators. Belafonte co-produced and Poitier, after initial squabbles with the director, was given reign and Poitier, after initial squabbles with the director, was given reign by the studio to complete the film in the director’s chair.

He produced, directed and starred in his next outing, a tepid romance called “A Warm December” (1973), which tanked, but he found his stride soon after back among friends. He directed and starred with Belafonte, Bill Cosby and an up-and-coming Richard Pryor in their answer to the blaxploitation wave, “Uptown Saturday Night” (1974), an action/comedy romp about two regular guys (Cosby and Poitier) whose devil-may-care night out becomes an odyssey through the criminal underworld. “Uptown” proved such a winning combo that Poitier would make two more successful buddy pictures starring himself and Cosby: “Let’s Do it Again” (1975) and “A Piece of the Action” (1977).

Poitier also returned to Africa and an actor-only capacity for another anti-apartheid film, “The Wilby Conspiracy” (1975), co-starring Michael Caine. After marrying Shimkus in 1976, he returned to the States most notably to direct Pryor’s own buddy picture; the second comedy pairing Pryor with Gene Wilder, “Stir Crazy” (1980), a story about two errant New Yorkers framed for a crime in the west and imprisoned. With Poitier letting the two actors’ fish-out-of-water comic talents play off their austere environs, the film became one of highest-grossing comedies of all time. A later outing with Wilder, “Hanky Panky” (1982), and a last directorial turn with Cosby, the infamous flop “Ghost Dad” (1990), proved profoundly less successful.

After more than a decade absent from the screen, Poitier made a celebrated return as an actor in the 1988 action flick “Shoot to Kill” and the espionage thriller “Little Nikita” (1988), though both proved less than worthy of the milestone. He would take parts rarely after that; only those close to his heart in big-budget TV movie events: NAACP lawyer -later the U.S.’s first African-American Supreme Court justice – Thurgood Marshall in “Separate But Equal” (ABC, 1991), Nelson Mandela, the heroic South African dissident and later president, in “Nelson & De Klerk” (Showtime, 1997), and “To Sir, With Love II” (CBS, 1996). He also took some choice supporting roles in feature actioners “Sneakers” (1992) and “The Jackal” (1997).

In 1997, the Bahamas appointed Poitier its ambassador to Japan, and has also made him a representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Poitier No. 22 in the top 25 male screen legends, and in 2006, the AFI’s list of the “100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time” tabulated more Poitier films than those of any other actor except Gary Cooper (both had five). In 2002, he was given an Honorary Oscar with the inscription, “To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being,” and in 2009, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. trade, accepts one teaching marginal, troubled cockney students in London and reached them via honest empathy and by treating them as adults. Buoyed by the popular title song by Brit-pop star Lulu (who also played a student), the film became a sleeper hit.


  • Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You (2013)
  • Sing Your Song (2011)
  • Tell Them Who You Are (2004)
  • The Last Brickmaker in America (2001)
  • The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn (1999)
  • Free of Eden (1999)
  • David and Lisa (1998)
  • Mandela and de Klerk (1997)
  • The Jackal (1997)
  • To Sir With Love II (1996)
  • Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995)
  • A Century Of Cinema (1994)
  • World Beat (1993)
  • Sneakers (1992)
  • Shoot To Kill (1988)
  • Little Nikita (1988)
  • The Spencer Tracy Legacy (1986)
  • A Piece Of The Action (1977)
  • The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)
  • Let’s Do It Again (1975)
  • Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
  • Buck and the Preacher (1972)
  • A Warm December (1972)
  • Brother John (1971)
  • The Organization (1971)
  • King: A Filmed Record … Montgomery to Memphis (1970)
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (1970)
  • The Lost Man (1969)
  • For Love of Ivy (1968)
  • To Sir, With Love (1967)
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
  • In the Heat of the Night (1967)
  • Duel at Diablo (1966)
  • A Patch of Blue (1965)
  • The Slender Thread (1965)
  • The Bedford Incident (1965)
  • The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
  • The Long Ships (1964)
  • Lilies of the Field (1963)
  • Pressure Point (1962)
  • A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
  • Paris Blues (1961)
  • All the Young Men (1960)
  • Virgin Island (1960)
  • Porgy and Bess (1959)
  • The Defiant Ones (1958)
  • The Mark of the Hawk (1958)
  • Edge of the City (1957)
  • Band of Angels (1957)
  • Something of Value (1957)
  • Good-Bye, My Lady (1956)
  • Blackboard Jungle (1955)
  • Go Man Go (1954)
  • Red Ball Express (1952)
  • Cry, the Beloved Country (1952)
  • No Way Out (1950)

Courtesy of TCM:

The prolific directorial career of Daniel Petrie does not end simply with his oeuvre but continues on with a new generation of actors, producers, directors, and writers in the form of his two sons, Daniel Jr. and Donald, and his twin daughters, Mary and June. Petrie began his career, like many up-and-coming directors of the 1950s, cutting his teeth on the corporate sponsor-produced dramas of early television: “The Motorola Television Hour,” “Goodyear Playhouse,” “Kraft Theatre,” and “The DuPont Show of the Month,” to name a few. He branched into features in a big way with the 1961 adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” a film that not only solidified Sidney Poitier’s standing in Hollywood as a major star but also brought Petrie a Golden Palm nomination at the Cannes Film Festival. He would continue this practice–working extensively on episodic television while peppering his resume with the occasional feature film–until the 1970s, when he turned to made-for-TV films and big-screen productions for the remainder of his career. His most productive and artistically successful flourish came in the 1980s, beginning with the remarkable sleeper “Resurrection,” the heady crime drama “Fort Apache the Bronx,” the Jane Fonda TV vehicle “The Dollmaker,” and the movie with one of Burt Lancaster’s last starring roles, “Rocket Gibraltar,” in 1988. Petrie turned to TV movies exclusively in the 1990s and succumbed to cancer in 2004.


  • Walter and Henry (2001)
  • Wild Iris (2001)
  • Inherit the Wind (1999)
  • Monday After the Miracle (1998)
  • The Assistant (1997)
  • Calm at Sunset (1996)
  • Kissinger and Nixon (1995)
  • Lassie (1994)
  • A Town Torn Apart (1992)
  • My Name Is Bill W. (1989)
  • Cocoon: the Return (1988)
  • Rocket Gibraltar (1988)
  • Square Dance (1987)
  • The Dollmaker (1984)
  • The Bay Boy (1984)
  • The Execution of Raymond Graham (1984)
  • Six Pack (1982)
  • Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)
  • Resurrection (1980)
  • The Betsy (1978)
  • The Quinns (1977)
  • Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years (1977)
  • Lifeguard (1976)
  • Returning Home (1975)
  • Mousey (1974)
  • The Gun and the Pulpit (1974)
  • The Neptune Factor (1973)
  • Trouble Comes to Town (1973)
  • Buster and Billie (1973)
  • Moon Of The Wolf (1972)
  • Hec Ramsey (1972)
  • The City (1971)
  • A Howling in the Woods (1971)
  • The Spy With a Cold Nose (1966)
  • The Idol (1966)
  • The Main Attraction (1963)
  • Stolen Hours (1963)
  • A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
  • The Bramble Bush (1960)

Here is a curated selection of links for additional insight/information:

  • Cultivate Cinema Circle info-sheet – link
  • “[Lorraine] Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun and its 1961 film adaptation (for which she also wrote the screenplay) similarly highlight various strategies of African American resistance. Simultaneously fighting overlapping systemic oppressions, the members of the Younger family refuse to defer their dreams (to reference the same Langston Hughes poem from which the play and film take their title), instead affirming their belief in themselves and one another through moments of shared joy, connection, and nurturing. The film version was the second theatrical feature by director Daniel Petrie, a veteran of filmed television plays who treats the material with respectful restraint. Focusing on how the members of one black family living on the South Side of Chicago after World War II respond to receiving a ten-thousand-dollar life-insurance check after the death of their patriarch, A Raisin in the Sun engages with many issues that remain salient for African American people nearly two decades into the twenty-first century. Hansberry draws attention to gender, class, and generational tensions within black communities, relationships between African Americans and Africans in America, competing definitions of progress and success, and the ways in which structural racism affects the everyday lives of black people.” — Sarita Cannon, Current [2018] – link
  • “First things first, Sidney Poitier is one of the true artists of our time. Repeating the role he played on the stage in the film version of A Raisin in the Sun, Poitier gives a thrilling performance, expressing every emotion known to mankind, as the self-pitying, embittered Walter Lee Younger of Lorraine Hansberry’s story of a Negro family of the Chicago slums … A Raisin in the Sun, on Broadway for 15 months, won the Drama Critics’ award for the best play of 1959. The film version, virtually the play transferred to the screen with the same actors, is as emotionally stirring as the play. As for prizes this picture could receive, I cannot begin to predict how many it will rack up here and abroad.” — Wanda Hale, The New York Times [1961] – link
  • “I will always remember seeing Sidney in A Raisin in the Sun. It says a great deal about Sidney, and it also says, negatively, a great deal about the regime under which American artists work, that that play would almost certainly never have been done if Sidney had not agreed to appear in it. Sidney has a fantastic presence on the stage, a dangerous electricity that is rare indeed and lights up everything for miles around. It was a tremendous thing to watch and to be made a part of. And one of the things that made it so tremendous was the audience. Not since I was a kid in Harlem, in the days of the Lafayette Theatre, had I seen so many black people in the theater. And they were there because the life on that stage said something to them concerning their own lives. The communion between the actors and the audience was a real thing; they nourished and recreated each other. This hardly ever happens in the American theater. And this is a much more sinister fact than we would like to think. For one thing, the reaction of that audience to Sidney and to that play says a great deal about the continuing and accumulating despair of the black people in this country, who find nowhere any faint reflection of the lives they actually lead. And it is for this reason that every Negro celebrity is regarded with some distrust by black people, who have every reason in the world to feel themselves abandoned.” — James Baldwin, Look [1968] – link

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