June 28, 2015
I was 15 when the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" was released. It was a big deal. Loving v Virginia, the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down anti-miscegenation laws, had been decided just months earlier.
The film was earnest, polemical and humorless. Anyone could see, from the beginning, that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn had to come around to the idea, because Sidney Poitier was so perfect he didn't seem human. But that may have been the only way to make a film about a topic that was controversial, even incendiary at that time.
This week, I am acting in a very different kind of project about an interracial relationship — a semi-improvised comedy web series that borders on farce. I'm the clueless grandmother (my forte) of a young white man who brings his African American girlfriend home to meet the extended family.
During our first rehearsal, the director (who also plays the young woman) encouraged the all-white "family" to improvise our greeting of the girlfriend with the the most tone deaf well-intentioned stereotypes we could come up with. We all hesitated, fearing to offend her, but she urged us to "bring it on," saying, "At a time like this, we have to talk about this stuff. We have to laugh about it." After an awkward silence, we inundated her with comments about the whiteness of her teeth, questions about whether we should have made fried chicken and whether she knew Serena Williams and Beyoncé. I felt her hair. The actor playing the creepy uncle asked her if her ass was real. It was weird, uncomfortable and also hilarious. I think it is going to be a terrific series.
And of course, in the middle of this, the Supreme Court struck down barriers to same sex marriage.
I'm aware that none of this signifies anything about a fully equal society. We have a long way to go in so many directions. But it is exciting and gratifying to have lived through so much social progress, and I am excited to see what comes next.
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