What history! The winner is announced, the first camera shot we see is one of Sidney Poitier with Rod Steiger backstage. Steiger had won the actor for Best Actor. Then we see the remarkable Walter Mirisch accept the Oscar and make a speech. Hollywood great Walter Mirisch, now 95, attended this month's Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Hollywood for the 50th anniversary screening of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Actress Lee Grant was also in attendance. She was wonderful in her scenes with Poitier as the wife of the murdered man.
In the old days, the envelope containing the name of the winner or winners would be handed to the celebrity, as you saw in the clip. Then things changed. The celebrities were handed the envelopes backstage and walked out with the envelopes to open after reading the nominees. Keeping to the old way would could have prevented the now-historic huge mistake this year when the Best Picture Winner was announced. It wasn't the fault of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. The man responsible for the envelopes backstage was live-tweeting and not fully paying attention to the work in progress. He was not doing his job.
It's fun to watch a classic and perhaps live-tweet or chat in person in a room with pals as you're watching. But I feel that you shouldn't overdo that. Pay full attention to a classic occasionally. Watch it as if you're in a theater. Save the trivia facts for later. Let the art totally absorb you the way the filmmakers intended it to. It's a different experience. Trust me. You will discover new things about films you may seen dozens of times already. Look at IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.
The famous slap scene was a slap in the face of racism, a slap that is still relevant today. "They call me MISTER Tibbs!," the famous Sidney Poitier line, was a declaration for all us black people that we are worthy of respect and validation for the hard work we've done to distinguish ourselves on a social playing field that has not always been level. If you're white and have seen that classic film several times and you love Sidney Poitier in it, do you have black friends? Have you ever talked to them seriously about their experiences in life as a black person? Have you ever talked to them about how they could relate to Virgil Tibbs in the movie? That film, that work of art, could open some meaningful dialogue.
TO SIR, WITH LOVE...GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER...and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. There were no black film critics on TV then to talk about Sidney Poitier's three box office hits then in 1967. Today, seeing black film critics on network TV news programs or syndicated entertainment news show is still a rarity.
Fifty years later, the slap still resonates in this era of "Black Lives Matter" and "Oscars So White." Hollywood has had to check its own practices regarding diversity and inclusion. On the TCM Film Festival red carpet, Quincy Jones told TCM contributor Illeana Douglas was a blessing it was to do the music for IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT because Hollywood was not hiring black composers. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz discussed the racial significance of the film with Walter Mirisch.
I grew up seeing Sidney Poitier movies. Seeing Sidney Poitier on the big screen and the TV screen made me feel so special, so proud. His work is extremely respected and appreciated by our African American community. It would've been great to see a black contributor on the TCM Film Festival red carpet asking questions about IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Hell, I'd have done it. I'd have flown myself out there, found my own lodging and worked on that red carpet for free to be present for the 50th anniversary screening of IN THE HEAT OF NIGHT.
Because the 1968 Oscars telecast was postponed out of respect following the assassination of Dr. King, I would've asked Mr. Mirisch, Mr. Quincy Jones or Ms. Lee Grant if Dr. Martin Luther King saw IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and, if so, how did he feel about the work that his friend, Sidney Poitier, did in it.
Watch TCM for highlights from the IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT festivities and check out VANITY FAIR for that interview of Norman Jewison on "How Southern Racism Nearly Ruined One of Sidney Poitier's Most Iconic Movies": VanityFair.com.