In the film the Poitier character is a paragon of virtue. He is a highly qualified doctor employed as a senior medical advisor to the UN. He is polite, well mannered and presentable, who has worked hard to achieve his success. Indeed, with these characteristics, he would normally be just the sort of man that any well to do middle class parents would want their daughter to marry. However, he is black suitor and it is this conundrum that the film explores.
The parents both pride themselves on their liberal outlook which in this context means hostility and contempt to what they term 'bigotry'. They simplistically believe that the colour of a person’s skin is no more than a 'pigmentation problem', which reflected the then liberal line that people of all races are basically much the same underneath their differing skin colours. In the film Poitier is culturally white and his values and lifestyle conform to the ethos of traditional white American middle class society. The joys of multiculturalism and diversity still lie in the future.
The film focuses on the conflict between the parents professed liberal values and their real life response to the likelihood of suddenly acquiring a black son-in-law. Their first reaction in both cases is one of suppressed horror, instinctively at odds with their well cultivated liberal beliefs. Hepburn quickly regains her composure and soon openly supports her daughter’s decision. However, Tracy is not so easily persuaded, voicing the opinion that such a marriage would create problems. These are never clearly specified since they act as a disguise, both to himself and others, that his objections are in reality based on prejudice against his daughter marrying a black man. The outcome is of course predictable. After wrestling with his conscience, and with some assistance from his wife and a clerical friend, the film concludes with an oration from Tracy. He declares to the assembled guests, which include Poitier’s parents and his own black housekeeper (the only character to be openly hostile to Poitier as a suitor), that there can be no possible objection to the marriage, since his daughter is in love and her choice should be respected.
The film is impressive and superbly acted but nevertheless is a well crafted piece of cultural Marxist propaganda. The ostensible objective is to challenge racial prejudice, seen by liberals as 'irrational', the enemy in this case being white middle class values and solidarity, and the outcome is the subversion of white identity. It should be remembered that the approach of the cultural Marxists to achieving their objectives is subtle, determined and incremental. Alas, it is ultimately nearly always successful.
A film such as this would not have been made much earlier than this date. Prior to the late sixties all married couples depicted in films belonged to the same race, almost invariably white. This reflected the then overwhelming view of society that marriage should take place between those of the same race, a view that was almost instinctive to people of all races. There is a word – miscegenation, now almost taboo, which describes the breach of this principle. At the time of the film 16 US states still had laws on the statute book against miscegenation (in the early 1940’s it was as many as 40 states) although these were struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court shortly afterwards. The reason why these laws were in operation, and were hugely supported by ordinary white people of the time, was the protection it provided to the white race, since the children of mixed race couples were considered by whites to belong to the black race. So mixed marriages undermine white society just as much as non-white immigration, which is why it can be argued that both should be resisted if white society is to be preserved.
The film reminds us that there can be a conflict between the collective rights of people in society and the human rights of individuals. In this case it is the collective right to maintain white (and black) racial identity against individuals' right to marry whomever they please. The film sends out the signal that the former can be dismissed as bigotry whilst the latter should be promoted as being open minded and tolerant.
As a consequence of the taboo which this film broke, the normalisation of mixed sexual relationships became gradually more commonplace in the cinema. So it is now considered to be entirely normal for films to depict a well educated middle class white girl in a relationship with a foul mouthed black ghetto hoodlum. Any criticism is dismissed as bigotry.