A Raisin in the Sun is a 1961 movie based on the original groundbreaking play of the same name by Lorraine Hansberry - groundbreaking, because it was the first production focusing on an African American family seen through their own eyes and not portrayed as the stereotypical "black characters" by playwrights who had gone before. Filmed during the era of segregation, but based in chicago where segregation was not a federal law but nonetheless a social reality, the movie was the first socially conscious movie showing life as it really was and as such it paved the way for a plethora of television shows, plays and movies taking their lead from the original. The movie tells the story of a struggling African American family led by its matriarch, Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil) Her son, Walter, works as a chauffeur but wants more for himself than that. His ambition outpaces his opportunities. His wife takes in laundry to make ends meet and their daughter wants to be a doctor and is searching for her cultural identity. Lena is the beneficiary of a life insurance policy on the death of her husband which opens the door to conflict as each family member has different ideas and plans for the money.
A Raisin in the Sun was originally a stage play that was a smash hit on Broadway and the majority of the cast of the film are reprising their roles from the stage version. Sidney Poitier was a much-heralded Walter Lee Younger and particularly sharp-eyed movie-goers may spot a very young Lou Gossett Junior in the role of George Murchison. Despite Poitier's obvious big-name appeal this is still a Broadway-Essie ensemble piece, each actor dependent on the performance of another to enable them to truly bring out the anger and confusion in their own role. Daniel Pietrie doesn't stray far from the stage play in directing this film and some critics labeled him "pedestrian" because of this. The power of the movie is not in its direction but in its incredible acting performances and gritty realism but this is still a stage play that has been filmed rather than a movie in its own right. It earned two Golden Globe nominations, both for acting (Sidney Loitier and Claudia McNeil) who were also both nominated for Best Foreign Actor and Actress at the British academy (BAFTA) awards. Daniel Petrie won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1961. In 2005 the film was awarded a spot on the Nationals Film Registry.