Darkness creates a peculiar environment. Stillness and tranquility are at their peak during this time, but nighttime wraps a shroud of mystique and secrecy around one’s domain as well. This can unfortunately generate an opportunity for devious, anxiety-provoking, and unlawful attacks. Trying to determine the root cause of these events can be equally as distressing beneath twilight amidst sleep deprivation and unfamiliar work surroundings. A snowball effect of further doubt, confusion, compounding chaos and ultimately animosity may ensue, heightening the inability to effectively concentrate on the task at hand. The groundbreaking 1967 film “In the Heat of the Night” directed by Canadian Norman Jewison explores this very situation. It was further escalated by a very tense, discriminatory environment in the southern United States of the 1960s.
The always distinguished and poised Sidney Poitier plays Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia police officer with an expertise in homicide investigations. While awaiting a train in Sparta, Mississippi “in the heat of the night”, the body of a renowned businessman is discovered on a street in town. Peeping tom and bullheaded Sergeant Sam Woods (Warren Oates) arrests Tibbs under suspicion and brings him to initially obstinate and chewing gum-obsessed Police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger). Upon discovery of Tibbs’ profession as well as the deceased’s wife insistence on his involvement in the investigation, Gillespie reluctantly agrees to work with Tibbs. By all accounts in the world of Sparta, Tibbs should not be in his current social position due to his race. He therefore faces an uphill battle of discrimination, resistance, and disbelief in his pursuance of the truth.
This film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor. Rod Steiger was very deserving of his award. His discomfort and inner turmoil surrounding the discriminatory overtones in his community and simultaneous increasing respect for Tibbs created a very raw and tangible performance. However, I strongly feel that Sidney Poitier’s performance warranted a nomination. This role helped to propel him as a pioneer for many African-American actors. His depiction a highly dignified, poised, and determined character with an esteemed career at the heights of the Civil Rights Movement was unprecedented.
Overall, I believe that the production and the fruition of this film required a great deal of bravery and dedication. Every element of this film, including the leader actors’ execution of their roles, created a perfect synergy. The importance of humility and knowledge acquisition in a work environment was one message that was effectively conveyed without a doubt. Furthermore, I feel that the necessity of universal respect and love towards all was the most significant theme of the film as well as its core. We are all inhabitants of this huge planet. Therefore, we must all honour others’ abilities, rights, and views to effectively work together in forging a wholly inclusive and productive global society.
I do not own the above image.
This post is a part of the 90 Years of Sidney Poitier Blogathon hosted by Virginie Pronovost of The Wonderful World of Cinema in celebration of his 90th birthday on Monday!