Over the weekend I watched the classic movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” I’d heard about it before, but never watched it, and figured I’d give it a go. It was an interesting movie that I’d recommend, particularly for those who are in intercultural/interracial relationships.
The basic story of the movie, which originally debuted in 1967, was that the daughter of a white “liberal” upper-middle class California family came home from Hawaii to announce her whirlwind romance and engagement to—gasp—a man of color! The movie takes place during an afternoon when the daughter and fiancé seek the approval for their approaching nuptials from first her parents, and then, in a twist of events when they are invited for dinner as well, the African American fiancé’s parents. I think there were moments where the drama was a little over the top… I mean, it’s hard for me to believe they fell in love in “just 20 minutes” and after 10 days of being together decided they wanted to be married (this coming from the girl who has been dating the same guy for 7 years, engaged for nearly 2, and still not married… I think I’m in a different ballgame), but the rest of the movie was really good, and would have made a great cultural studies or sociology paper back in the day. It was especially interesting watching the “liberal” family struggle with their feelings about having an African-American son-in-law. As the mother said to the father in a side discussion,
She’s 23 years old, and the way she is… is just exactly the way we brought her up to be. We answered her questions. She listened to our answers. We told her it was wrong to believe that white people were somehow essentially superior to black people… or the brown or the red or the yellow ones, for that matter [oohh a bit of a cringe at that dated comment, although the sentiment is there]. That people who thought that way were wrong to think that way, sometimes hateful, usually stupid, but always wrong. That’s what we said… and when we said it, we did not add, ‘but don’t even fall in love with a colored man.’
In addition to this there were a few other great quotes in the movie that really spoke to me. In particular there was this one quote when John (the fiancé) gets into a “heated” discussion with his father who basically tells him, “After all I’ve done for you [working long hours as a mailman, making money to fund your education, etc], all I’ve given up for you, this is how you want to repay me? Marrying a white girl?” John responds:
You listen to me. You say you don’t want to tell me how to live my life. So what do you think you’ve been doing? You tell me what rights I’ve got or haven’t got, and what I owe to you for what you’ve done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you’re supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another. (But you don’t own me! You can’t tell me when or where I’m out of line, or try to get me to live my life according to your rules. You don’t even know what I am, Dad, you don’t know who I am. You don’t know how I feel, what I think. And if I tried to explain it the rest of your life you will never understand.) You are 30 years older than I am. You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it’s got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs! You understand, you’ve got to get off my back! Dad… Dad, you’re my father. I’m your son. I love you. I always have and I always will. But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.
Parentheses are mine… I love these lines…I know it is a very “un-South Asian” way to think or talk to/about ones parents, it is very individualistic and not very respectful, but I think these words are really powerful and impressive. I’ve tried to say something like this to my mom before, but I don’t think it got through, its one of the major reasons we don’t understand each other…
Spoiler alert!… don’t read further if you want to watch the movie yourself… but the third best line of the movie comes from the girl’s father in the final monologue of the film, when he comes full circle:
There’ll be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled and the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You could try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fears, but where necessary you’ll just have to cling tight to each other and say “screw all those people”! Anybody could make a case, a hell of a good case, against your getting married. The arguments are so obvious that nobody has to make them. But you’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to have a pigmentation problem, and I think that now, no matter what kind of a case some bastard could make against your getting married, there would be only one thing worse, and that would be if – knowing what you two are and knowing what you two have and knowing what you two feel- you didn’t get married.
It makes me feel warm and tingly, so I figured I’d share.