Sunday, February 17, 2013

Black History Month: The Bedford Incident

To paraphrase the State of the Union Address, "the state of black America is still pretty miserable."  The current situation of race relations, far from being "post-racial," is still rife with prejudice, misunderstanding, and irrational fear.  Post-racial, my ass.  Small steps are still being taken though, as they have been for a long time.

Some of these small steps have occurred in the entertainment community, mostly in the areas of the music and the movie businesses.  One of these small steps was "The Bedford Incident."  (Put the bedford incident in the word search for my original post to see a more complete description of the movie.)

(NEXT DAY NOTE: I left out sports.  I write these things quickly, but upon reflection maybe I was right to leave it out.  The small acts furthering brotherhood were more subversive, I think, in music and in the movies, like this "Bedford" thing. They were more like intellectual challenges, gauntlets thrown where safety could have prevailed .  I recall the integration of sports as being accomplished grudgingly, not so much a step forward as a realization that a step needed to be taken.  Okay, back to the show.)  

Sidney Poitier was cast as a photographer "embedded" with an American destroyer crew on patrol in Arctic waters, tracking Russian submarines.  The great thing about this casting is that there is nothing at all about his character that is race-specific.  No mention of, not even a hint of his blackness.  I'm sure that the script was written assuming that a white actor would play the part, and then no changes at all were made to the script after Mr. Poitier was cast in the role.  This was pretty remarkable in my opinion.

It gave American viewers, at a critical point in race relations (1965), a chance to see a black man accepted as a high-level and successful professional photographer in a very natural way, to see him interact with the crew as an equal, with no discomfort attributable to his race.  Now we might take this for granted, but if we do I believe it owes to the debt we have to brave people who made casting choices like this when it was not easy to do so.

Keep taking those baby steps, America.  "A journey of a hundred miles . . ." you know, the first steps thing.  

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