Moviegoers fifty years ago were captivated and challenged by a provocative, topical film: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? The storyline was tailor-made for the moment. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn portrayed conventionally liberal white parents who found their principles put to the test when their daughter brought her betrothed home for the holidays. The prospective member of the family was every parent’s dream: a doctor, notably handsome, accomplished, and polished. The frisson arises because the ideal son-in-law also happens to be black, portrayed by the incomparable Sidney Poitier.
In the early twenty-first century we might well look back on that conceit as reflecting a benighted past. We also know that misplaced pride, intolerance and hypocrisy—superbugs among human flaws—have a protean capacity to evolve in new circumstances.
A comparable, contemporary remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner would not be based on racial differences. Nor would it be based on nationality or religious differences or sexual orientation.
Who in 1967 would have guessed that in the faraway future of 2017 partisan differences would occasion its own widespread, weaponized bigotry?