On December 12th 1967, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a ground-breaking movie about an interracial romantic relationship starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton, opened in theatres in America. The film followed the story of a young white woman who brings her fiancé, an African-American doctor, home to meet her parents, played by Hepburn and Tracy in their last film together. It examined the reactions of the young couple’s various family members and friends to their relationship. Although first screened less than 50 years ago, until the landmark 1967 civil-rights case Loving vs. Virginia (which was decided just five months before Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was released) marriage between blacks and whites was still illegal in parts of America, and the film was notable for its willingness to tackle this taboo topic. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and collected two Oscars, including Best Actress for Hepburn, the second of her career.
Others soon dared to bring the issues raised by the film into the open. In the same month Nancy Sinatra in ‘Movin with Nancy’ was seen allowing Sammy Davis Jr to place a chaste kiss on her cheek and, in 1968 in an episode of Star Trek called ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’, the first ever sexual kiss between an African-American and a Caucasian was screened. However, mindful of a likely public backlash, the producers decided that the scene had to be coded as a ‘forced’ activity in which Jim Kirk was made to kiss Uhura by a race of ‘supreme’ beings who used their telekinetic powers to control others as playthings. For those of you who regularly follow my blogs you will remember that it was not long after this film was released that two African-American athletes made their own powerful protest about racism and racial segregation in America through their ‘Black Power’ salute.
Interracial marriages are not just a twentieth century phenomenon – history is full of people for whom love has enabled them to conquer artificial divides. Differences between humans are superficial and phenotypical – they are literally only skin-deep. Even when the differences are cultural, there are more things that unite humans than divide them. The world over we all cherish our families and our children and we all bleed when pricked. There are no separate races, just one human race and, in this third week of Advent, let us remember that Christmas is really about love, tolerance and understanding – not just presents and food – and use this festival to celebrate and embrace our differences rather than fear or hate them.