June 10, 2023

Blu-Ray Review – A Raisin In The Sun (1961, Criterion Collection)


From stage to screen and now fifty-Seven years later, Lorraine Hansberry‘s A Raisin In The Sun (1981) gets its Blu-ray release courtesy of The Criterion Collection. Starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands reprising their roles from the stage to front of the camera. An account of an African American working class family living in Chicago, the USA struggling to escape racism and impoverishment of everyday life.

Very few stage plays from Broadway or London’s West End have adapted successfully to film over the years. Hansberry’s play was a hit when it played Broadway utilizing the art form as a platform of protest to help in the civil rights movement. Sadly she didn’t get to see any of her other work grace the stage due to her untimely death (Cancer).

Nearly sixty years on since the film’s release its terrifying to think the films subjects still resonate today.Racism, Police violence and social deprivation. Hansberry was also one of the very few Black women (or men) to have their play on the stage during the Civil Rights Era. She was also regarded as the first Black Playwright.

In A Raisin In The Sun we meet the Younger Family in a small cramped house. Five of them live in the little box they call home: Walter Lee (Poitier) father of the family working hard to provide driving limos for rich white people. Like many people dreaming of better and even been his own boss. Ruth (Dee) Walter Lee’s wife and a fragile woman, who does laundry for white people. Beneatha (Sands) is their daughter, liberal-minded dreams of being a doctor, progressive in her social views and activism. The youngest is Travis (Stephen Perry), ordinary kid, full of hope. Lena (Claudia McNeill)is the matriarch of the family, old-fashioned in her ways, determined to keep her family together. Built to resolve, defeat obstacles largely thanks to her years of hard work, a wise woman who only wants the best for her family.

The film opens up at the start of another day. 7.30am a start of another day we see them during their daily routines, some get to get up right away, others reluctant. What the opening scene does reflects the cramped conditions the family lives in with Travis sleeping in the living room. Those conditions are cramped, claustrophobic but they are hoping this may change drastically. Hoping for the arrival of an insurance cheque, suddenly excitement turns to tension when they argue how to spend the money if and when it arrives. This film captures the high stakes, shifting currents of the experience of black lives in mid 20th Century America.

You wonder sometimes if Poitier or Dee weren’t in this , A Raisin In The Sun might have disappeared into cinematic oblivion.The Youngers chased the so-called gold at the end of the rainbow, the American Dream. It’s a dream that discriminated against them from the colour of their skin. You get a glimpse of this when the local housing association man attempts to buy back their dream home. Objecting them to vile abuse venting anguish in the family. Stealing their dream home five minutes after they buy the house, which happens to be in a white neighbourhood. Not everyone was welcomed even if they had the readies to afford those luxuries.

Lorraine Hansberry wanted to make the film a little darker which was a big no-no, nowadays that may be a good move.Thankfully that route wasn’t taken as the film is now one of those perfect films to educate the younger generations. It may feel a little dated now, it still paints that perfect examination of a black family lives, daily struggles and abuse. It was a revelatory film, during turbulent times and social unrest not many Black writers got a chance to shine.

A Raisin In The Sun captures the oppressive nature, the claustrophobia and determination to rise above racism. The film actually does reminds us a little of the Kitchen Sink dramas the UK (Ken Loach, Lindsay Anderson). It captured the careers of two fantastic actors (Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee) and no need for violence or strong language. A vital uplifting film.


Drama | USA, 1961 | 12 | 1st October 2018 (UK) | Blu-Ray | The Criterion Collection | Sony Pictures Releasing | Dir.Daniel Petrie | Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, Louis Gossett Jr.

Picture & Sound | ★★★

The quality of the picture and sound is fantastic, rising above the high standards we expect from The Criterion Collection. The film was created in Black and White with a newly restored 4K digital 1080p transfer from the 35-mm original camera negative. Aspect ratio is 1.85:1. Incredibly consistent bit-rate, delivering a pristine richly rewarding outcome, no scratches or imperfections.

The sound is delivered in a linear PCM mono track (24-bit) track in the original English language. The sound is consistent, with easy to follow the crisp dialogue. The film also comes with an optional English (SDH) subtitles.

Extras | ★★★★

As mentioned in the film review, the extra do enhance the educational reputation of A Raisin In The Sun. It’s always good to watch or in this one, hear from the main source, Lorraine Hansberry. You get a 24-minute audio from 1961 with playwright/screenwriter chatting about the conflict between human dignity and money. Imani Perry the author of Looking for Lorraine talks about Hansberry in a new interview with The Criterion Collection. Giving a little more on the background of Hansberry and how her story inspired what happens to The Youngers. If you love interviews check out the one with the film’s director Daniel Petrie who recounts how the cast was a ‘joy to work with’. Even if you haven’t seen any of Sidney Poitier’s films, you will know the actor is one of the best actors in the industry. This profile delves a little more into the actor’s background and inspiration in film. New interview with film scholar Mia Mask, coeditor of Poitier Revisited.

Excerpt from Black Theatre: The Making of a Movement (1978), with a new introduction by director Woodie King Jr., enhances the films importance in Black stage /film history as does Episode of Theater Talk from 2002 featuring producer Philip Rose and actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.

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