They call me Mister Tibbs.
In light of the last couple weeks of turmoil, what better way to revive this flagging column of mine than by looking back at a film where a white cop and a black detective are forced to get along? Winning multiple awards, including Best Picture, Actor (Rod Steiger), and Adapted Screenplay, it became a defining film for Sidney Poitier and marked a shift in Hollywood’s portrayal of black characters. As a fan of crime drama and Rod Steiger, I had this film on my to-watch list for a while before I got around to seeing it. Knowing it was a 60s movie and that it was considered significant in the political landscape of the Civil Rights movement, I was worried that it might be heavy-handed or on-the-nose. Were all the white characters going to be idiots? Was it going to be a bait-and-switch affair that purports to be a crime flick but is really About Race in a super pompous, 60s way?
Thank goodness, no! I mean okay yes, it is about race, and yes, we’ll talk about That Scene where Poitier has a slap-off with a plantation owner. And yes, the mystery is ultimately a little flimsy and takes a back seat to the character drama. But really, it’s not so much About Race as it is About Male Bonding. In fact, an alternate title was considered—Machismo: The Movie.