A Raisin in the Sun (USA, 1961, Daniel Petrie)
After a successful run on Broadway, A Raisin in the Sun came to film in 1961, offering a snapshot of an urban, working-class, African-American family at a turning point in their lives. The film powerfully conveys the inter-familial and inter-generational conflicts that arise out of different hopes, dreams, and ambitions.
Lorraine Hansberry's award-winning play is the source material for the film, set in the 1940s, but filmed just as America was beginning its civil rights movement. Sidney Poitier's Walter Lee is the film's ambitious hope, struggling mightily to escape his empoverished, ghetto-ized existence through hard work and acumen, but finding the world an unwelcoming and confining place. The film draws its intelligent dialogue from the complex questions facing a racial minority in an environment in which the effects of prejudice are always percolating just beneath the surface. An unexpected windfall throws the family into confusion and disarray, as competing interests and a hostile world conspire to make decisions for the beneficiaries extremely challenging.
The cramped and claustrophobic apartment setting reminds us of the film's theatrical roots, but it also serves the movie's themes well, and director Daniel Petrie keeps the camera moving, even if the setting and action are static. The issue of racism is handled relatively subtly, quietly insinuating itself into the situation rather than slamming you in the face. There is some unevenness in the performances, as some of the actors from the stage production still seem to be projecting to the back row of the theater, but Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee lead the cast with their charismatic presences.
Directed in rather pedestrian fashion by Daniel Petrie, the story is powerful enough to rise above such limitations. A Raisin in the Sun astutely examines such serious generational and racial issues as assimilation and the conflicts between idealism, the pursuit of the American dream, and pride in one's racial and cultural heritage.