The civil rights struggle was convulsing the nation, its violence broadcast into every living room. Against this fraught background, Sidney Poitier emerged as an image of dignity, discipline, and moral authority. Here was the picture-perfect black man, helping German nuns build a chapel in The Lilies of the Field and overcoming the prejudices of recalcitrant students in To Sir with Love, a redneck sheriff in In the Heat of the Night, and a prospective father-in-law in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. In his characters’ restrained responses to white people’s ignorance and bad behavior, Poitier represented racial reconciliation and reciprocal respectthe “Poitier effect” that Sharon Willis traces through cinema and television from the civil rights era to our own.
The Poitier effect, in Willis’s account, is a function of white wishful thinking about race relations. It represents a dream of achieving racial reconciliation and equality without any substantive change to the white world. This notion of change without change conforms smoothly with a fantasy of colorblindness, a culture in which difference makes no difference. Willis demonstrates how Poitier’s embodiment of such a fantasy figures in the popular cinema of the civil rights eraand reasserts itself in recent melodramas such as The Long Walk Home, Pleasantville, Far from Heaven, and The Help.
From change without change to change we can believe in, her book reveals how the Poitier effect, complicated by contemporary ideas about feminism, sexuality, and privilege, continues to inform our collective memory as well as our visions of a postracial society.
|Publisher:||University of Minnesota Press|
|Product dimensions:||8.30(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Sharon Willis is professor of art history and visual and cultural studies at the University of Rochester. A coeditor of Camera Obscura, she is also the author of High Contrast: Race and Gender in Contemporary Hollywood Film and Marguerite Duras: Writing on the Body, as well as many essays on contemporary cinema.
Table of Contents
PrefaceIntroduction: Racial Pedagogy and the Magical Negro 1. Passing Through: The Obsessive Sameness of Sidney Poitier2. Feminism as Alibi: When White Women Encounter Color3. The Lure of Retrospectatorship: Hitting the False Notes in Far from Heaven4. Black Authenticity and the Ambivalent Icon: Keeping It Real in Talk to MeConclusion: Chasing SidneyAcknowledgmentsNotesIndex