Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lillies of the Field: African Americans in Cinema (2)

In the second of a series of reviews chronicling the African American actors who have been recognized by the Academy for their acting ability, I look at the ground breaking and thought provoking movie, Lillies of the Field.

This film debuted in 1963, already a turbulent time for African Americans in the United States.

Sandwiched between the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this movie brought into peoples homes another side of African Americans that was not seen on the nightly news.

The movie starts off with Homer Smith, played by Sidney Poitier, stopping off at a nunnery for water in the hot Arizona desert heat.

Because he is a repair person, he is persuaded to stay the night and fix the roof. Poitier was the second African American to receive an Academy Award for his acting ability for his role in this film.

It comes to be the nuns have no money, but he is persuaded to stay longer, with the lure of a hot meal and hopes that Mother Maria, played by Lilia Skala, will give him his pay. This turns out to be a mistake because the nuns now think that he was sent my God to build a chapel for the small near by town.

Homer is asked to Sunday service, but declines because Homer is Baptist. He picks up a fare, Juan, played by Stanley Adams who tells him the story of the nuns. He tells of their hardship immigrating to the States, escaping from Germany just to come to the United States and work night and day for pennies on the dollar. Riddled with guilt, Homer decides to help the nuns out a bit.

Homer concedes to building the chapel after he confesses to Mother Maria that he always wanted to be an architect. To supplement his work on the chapel, Homer gets a job working for Mr. Ashton, played by Ralph Nelson, who is impressed by his knowledge of equipment. While working for the nuns, he teaches them English and passes the time by swapping spirituals.

Taking on the feat of building the chapel, Homer commands that he builds it all alone, and accepting help from no one. The towns people have none of that and find little ways of helping him to the point where he is no longer doing any of the work, by supervising, and telling people what to do until it is completed. Once complete, Mother Maria swallows her pride and actually thanks Homer for his work.

I will not spoil the ending for you, so you are just going to have to make a trip to BlockBuster for that little tid bit!

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