Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American comedy-drama film produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, and written by William Rose. It stars Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and featuring Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner contains a (then rare) positive representation of the controversial subject of interracial marriage, which historically had been illegal in most states of the United States, and still was illegal in 17 states—mostly Southern states—until 12 June 1967, six months before the film was released, roughly two weeks after Tracy filmed his final scene (and two days after his death), when anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia. The movie’s Oscar-nominated score was composed by Frank De Vol.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is notable for being the ninth and final on-screen pairing of Tracy and Hepburn, with filming ending just 17 days before Tracy’s death. Hepburn never saw the completed film, saying the memories of Tracy were too painful. The film was released in December 1967, six months after his death.
Joanna Drayton’s unannounced early return from a Hawaii holiday causes a stir when she brings to her childhood upper-class home her new fiancé, John Prentice: a widowed, black physician. Joanna’s parents—newspaper publisher Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) and his wife art gallery owner Christina Drayton (Katharine Hepburn)—are purported liberals who have instilled in her the idea of racial equality. But to her surprise, Joanna’s parents are deeply upset that she is planning to marry a black man. The Draytons’ black maid, Tille (Isabel Sanford), is just as horrified, suspecting that John is trying to “get above himself” by marrying a white woman. What was intended to be a sit-down steak dinner for two turns into a meet-the-in-laws dinner party, and during the pre-dinner period, John, Joanna and her parents have to work through their differences.
Joanna is perplexed by the reactions of her parents—they are unsettled by her engagement with John since they never thought that her choice would be a black man—and further unsettled by John’s decision that if Joanna’s parents do not accept the engagement that day, that he will end it.
Adding to the situation is that Joanna, at first intending to join John in a few weeks in Geneva for their planned marriage ceremony, has changed her mind to leave after dinner on his flight to New York City and then onward to Europe. She has also invited John’s parents (Roy E. Glenn and Beah Richards) to dinner so that they can all become acquainted. Due to this invitation, John is forced to reveal that he had not yet told his parents of his intention to marry a white girl.
Matt’s golf buddy Monsignor Mike Ryan (Cecil Kellaway), a Catholic priest, stops by after Matt earlier cancelled on playing golf. After learning of John, he shares Joanna’s enthusiasm for the pending nuptials and tells her father as much. Matt says he cannot give the couple his blessing however; he fears that Joanna will be hurt by the prejudice that she and John will surely encounter. Meanwhile, one of Christina’s employees at her gallery, Hilary (Virginia Christine), who’d briefly met John and Joanna earlier in the day, stops by the Draytons’ home to express her disapproval over the relationship and, though Christina herself is still unsure of her own feelings about the matter, she is so offended at Hilary’s racism that she fires her. Later, when dressing for dinner, Christina shares with Matt her support for Joanna, even if it should mean having to fight Matt.
Cocktails at the Drayton home is musical chairs of different sets of parental characters who share their views about the situation; it shows that the mothers have more faith in their children than the fathers. Universally, it had been expressed by the parents that more than a few hours are necessary for a proper decision, but John’s mother brings up her idea of what the men are missing about the situation: passion. When the elder Prentice tells John that he is making a huge mistake, John says that his father thinks of himself as a black man, whereas John thinks of himself as a man.
After thinking about the situation, Matt calls everyone together to make an announcement. He says that it does not matter what everyone else may think about John and Joanna getting married: all that matters is that they love each other. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner ends with the two families and Monsignor Ryan finally sitting down to dinner.