Director Daniel Petrie’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” adapted from the play of the same name by Lorraine Hansberry, is not so much about the black experience as it is about the experience of a single family. Yet it is by no means airbrushed or romanticized. Nor is it an interpretation of a people as much as the representation of an era. The film merges the segregationist policies of 1940s Chicago with reverberations of the Jim Crow era and places all of these conflicts on the doorstep of a black family.
The play Hansberry wrote in 1959 feels as authentic as a fictional story about racism and upward black mobility because it was lived. Yes, the emotional hook came to fruition thanks to a quartet of legendary performers: Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, Claudia McNeil and, of course, Sidney Poitier. However, as PBS reports, the core of this timeless classic comes from Hansberry’s own exposure to the racist practices his family faced as they attempted to settle in a white neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side in 1938.
Unlike his white contemporaries, Hansberry did not attempt to shield the audience from the uncomfortable reality of a black man (played by Poitier) who often verbally abuses his wife (Ruby Dee). She did not idealize the collective frustrations with a country that would consider them “less than”. She did not succumb to the stereotype that black Americans were not complex thinkers. “A Raisin in the Sun” is earthy, painfully human, and one of the best scenes on which Poitier was able to demonstrate his astonishing palette.