The film tells the story of rich white girl Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton) and prominent black doctor John Prentice (Sidney Poitier). They met on vacation in Hawaii and quickly fell in love. In fact, the movie begins as they come to the San Francisco home of Joey’s successful and influential parents Matt (Spencer Tracy) and Christina (Katharine Hepburn). Although the two consider themselves to be socially progressive, the prospect of this interracial marriage startles both of them - especially Matt. The situation becomes even more entangled when John tells Matt that he won’t marry Joey without Matt’s blessing, a factor that becomes exacerbated by the couple’s insistence that they get hitched immediately. That means Matt has to decide within a few hours, and the scenario gets even more muddled when John’s parents (Roy Glenn and Beah Richards) fly up from LA to meet their future daughter-in-law.
I am such a big fan of this film because of the questions it raises. From my vantage point, I think it really calls into question our deepest feelings about race and racism. For example, it is one thing to be open-minded and progressive in your thinking when you have black co-workers, black colleagues, or black friends... but for some, to welcome an African-American into your family and into your home can stir up an entirely different level of comfortableness or uncomfortableness depending on where someone situates themselves on a spectrum of racism or predjudice. This is the central question and/or struggle of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and the film cleverly takes you through this process of confronting your thinking or feelings about race. Great art is timeless and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner resonates as loudly now as when it was released three decades ago.