Raisin in the Sun, A (1961): Sidney Poitier Shines in Petrie’s Black Family Melodrama, Based on Lorraine Hansberry’s Broadway Hit Play

Lorraine Hansberry adapted to the screen A Raisin in the Sun, her 1959 Broadway play, about a black family in the process of change, a transformation rife with internal and external struggles.

A Raisin in the Sun
A Raisin in the Sun (1961 film poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster

The title comes from the poem “Harlem” (also known as “A Dream Deferred” ) by Langston Hughes.

Director Daniel Petrie has cast in the film most of the original ensemble players in the smash hit production.

Right on the heels of his success as a movie star, after garnering an Oscar nomination for Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958), Sidney Poitier gives a strong performance as the eldest son, who occupies the center of the family melodrama.

The Younger family strives to get out of their ghetto neighborhood on the south side of Chicago.

When the patriarch of the family passes away, each family member is handed a slice of the insurance payoff, and they all see an opportunity for change.

But there are several personal and social obstacles along the way, and the movie is at its best in delineating the intergenerational conflict between the powerful matriarch Lena Younger (superbly played by Claudia McNeil) and her two children, Walter Lee (Sidney Poitier) and Beneatha Younger (Diana Sands)

The mother wants her son to assume the role of the head of the family, to be a real, responsible man by following in the footsteps of his father.  As she says in the message-driven closure: “He’s finally come into his manhood, like the rainbow after the rain.”

Last Reel: Closure

When their future neighbors find out the Youngers are moving in, they send Mark Lindner from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association to offer them money if they away, but they refuse.

Meanwhile, Walter loses the insurance money when a partners in the liquor store scheme, Willie Harris, skips town with the money.

Desperate, Walter offers to take Lindner up on his offer to take money, while his family begs him not to sell away their dignity. When Lindner arrives, however, Walter has a  change of heart and rejects Lindner’s offer again. The Youngers eventually move out of their apartment, fulfilling their dream.

The future seems uncertain, but they hold onto their optimism and determination, remaining together unified as a family.

The movie betrays its theatrical origins: There are the requisite entrances and exits and the expected speeches and monologues.

But the entire ensemble its excellent, and considering the time in which it was made, the film is truly inspirational in the positive family values that it propagates.

Critical Status
Ruby Dee won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Director Petrie received a special “Gary Cooper Award” at the 1961 Cannes Film Fest.

Claudia McNeil, who received rave reviews, was nominated for the Golden Globe and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”


Walter Lee Younger (Sidney Poitier)

Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil)

Ruth Younger (Ruby Dee)

Beneatha Younger (Diana Sands)

Asagai (Ivan Dixon)

Mark Lindner (John Fiedler)

George Murchinson (Louis Gossett Jr.)

Travis (Stephen Perry)

Bobo (Joel Fuellen)

Willie Harris (Glenn Sr.)



Produced by David Susskind and Philip Rose

Directed by Daniel Petrie

Screenplay: Lorraine Hansberry based on her own play

Camera: Charles Lawton Jr.

Editor: William Lyon, Paul Weatherwax

Music: Laurence Rosenthal

Art direction: Carl Anderson


Running time: 127 Minute

Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Release date: May 29, 1961

Budget $1.5 million