Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun (1961) was directed by Daniel Petrie, written by Lorraine Hansberrry, and starred Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil and Diana Sands. Supporting cast includes Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett Jr.(in his film debut), John Fiedler, and Stephen Perry.

The movie is based on theBroadway play also written by Lorraine Hansberry. Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett Jr. and John Fielder recreated their stage roles for the movie version.

A Raisin in the Sun is about a working class African American family at a turning point in their lives.

Walter (Sidney Poitier) and Ruth (Ruby Dee) Younger and their son Travis (Stephen Perry), along with Walter's mother Lena (Claudia McNeil) and sister Beneatha (Diana Sands), live in poverty in a dilapidated one-bedroom apartment on Chicago's south side. Walter is barely making a living as a limousine driver and is going through a mid life crisis. Ruth is also excepting their second child although marital relations are strained by Walter's drinking and mood swings.

On the death of her husband, Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil) becomes the beneficiary of a $10,000 life insurance payment, and suddenly the family is in conflict over how the money should be spent. Lena wants to use the money for a down payment on a house. Her daughter Beneatha (Diana Sands) is hoping that Lena will help her pay for medical school. Lena's son, Walter Lee (Sidney Poitier) wants to go into business with friends who plan to open a liquor store, which he's convinced will be a sure money maker.

Walter feels he has a sense of entitlement to the money and desperately wants to become wealthy, but his mother has religious objections to alcohol and frowns on his idea of using the money for a liquor store. Beneatha reminds Walter that it is Mama's money and it is her call on how to spend it.

Beneatha is in college and being pursued by two suitors. First there is George (Louis Gossett Jr) who is wealthy and educated. Second there is Joseph Asagai, a Nigerian medical student at a Canadian university on a visit to America. Beneatha and Walter feel that George represents the "fully assimilated black man" who denies his African heritage with a "smarter than thou" attitude. Whereas, Asagai teaches Beneatha about her African heritage but also points out how she is assimilating herself into white ways.

Lena puts some of the money down on a new house, choosing an all-white neighborhood over a black one for the practical reason that it happens to be much cheaper. Walter is furious and goes on a drinking binge. Lena later relents and gives the rest of the money ($6500) to Walter to invest with the proviso that he reserve $3,000 for Beneatha's education.

Meanwhile Karl Lindner (John Fiedler) from the all white neighborhood offers to buy the Youngers out of their house, to avoid an "interracial" neighbor. Walter shows him the door.

Walter passes all the money (he fails to put away $3000.00 in a savings account for his sister) on to Willy's naive sidekick Bobo, who gives it to Willy, who absconds with it, depriving Walter and Beneatha of their dreams.

Beneatha is scolded by Asagai for her materialism when she becomes distraught at the loss of the money. She eventually accepts his point of view that things will get better with rebuilding effort, along with his proposal of marriage and his invitation to move with him to Nigeria to practice medicine.

Walter, distraught, calls Karl Linder planning to take him up on the offer to buy them out of the house. His wife Ruth, his mother and sister are horrified. As Lena says that while money was something they try to work for, they should never take it if it was a person's way of telling them they weren't fit to walk the same earth as them.

In the end, Walter comes to his senses and in a powerful speech to Linder, turns down the money and the family gets ready to move into their new home.

A Raisin in the Sun is a groundbreaking movie.

The film shows the complex questions facing a racial minority. The movie examines serious generational and racial issues as assimilation, prejudice, conflicts between idealism, the pursuit of the American dream, and pride in one's racial and cultural heritage.

The movie powerfully conveys the inter-familial and inter-generational conflicts that arise out of different hopes, dreams, and ambitions.

The movie captures the power and tension of a strong ensemble cast with intelligent and moving script.

I highly recommend this very powerful and moving film.

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