Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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For A Raisin in the Sun, identify three differences between the print version and the film version.  Then say which version you prefer and explain why.

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My answer will refer to the earliest film version, from 1960, of A Raisin in the Sun.

What strikes one is how closely the film recreates the play. This should not be surprising, given that this version was made so soon after the premiere of the stage production, and that Lorraine Hansberry herself wrote the screenplay.

The only significant differences between play and film are as follows:

The scene in some print versions of the play with a Mrs.Johnson who visits the Younger family is cut. But this scene was also cut from the opening production of the play itself. It adds little dramatically to the story.

What typifies the production of filmed plays is the effort to make the drama more cinematic by introducing scenes outside the main setting. In A Raisin in the Sun Walter, in the film, is shown at his job as a chauffeur. Later, a scene takes place in a bar after the episode of Walter's unfortunate business transaction in which his father's insurance money has been lost.

These scenes have the camera move outdoors and away from the single set of the Younger house, but they also achieve another purpose. As Walter, Sidney Poitier is shown in circumstances that go beyond the more limiting stage portrayal of the character. The fact of his driving his employer around, especially, is poignant in its portrayal of a man who clearly feels constricted and wishes he could be employed at something else. Why, he's asking himself, must people like me be relegated to stereotypical jobs like this ?

These are small differences between the movie and the play, but I would contend they amplify the effectiveness of the story, though it doesn't necessarily need to be so enhanced. And given that Hansberry wrote the screenplay, they are authentic and valid extensions of what already is a startlingly powerful drama.

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There are at least three different film versions that I know of, so I'm not sure if you have a specific one in mind.  For the most recent version, in which Sean Combs plays Walter, here are a few key differences:

The movie version leaves out two important scenes from Act II.  The first omission involves Beneath and Walter in scene 1; the second involves Mrs. Johnson in scene 2.  It adds a scene in Act II where the family visits the house in Clybourne Park.  It also makes significant changes to the conversation between Beneatha and Asagai in Act III. 

While the movie does include Beneatha putting on the African robes she has been given by Asagai, playing the African music, and dancing around the apartment as she does in scene 1 of the play, she is never joined by Walter on his "drums", nor do they shout "OCOMOGOSIAY" to each other.  This is a great scene in the play showing Beneatha and Walter coming together, caught up in the moment as they "travel" in their own ways to Africa, where they are admired and respected. Additionally, in this same scene in the movie, Beneatha never cuts her hair short in an effort to be less "assimilationist," as she does in the play.

In the movie version, another key omission is that Mrs. Johnson never comes to visit the apartment.  In the play, she comes with her newspaper and the news of another bombing:

Johnson: …I guess y’all seen the news what’s all over the colored paper this week…

Mama: No—didn’t get mine yet this week.

Johnson: (Lifting her head and blinking with the spirit of catastrophe) You mean you ain’t read ‘bout them colored people that was bombed out their place out there?

Her primary concern in this visit, other than seeing if there is any new gossip, seems to be to instill fear in the Youngers and criticize them for choosing to move into a white neighborhood.  Beneatha, in frustration, later complains to Mama that there are two things that the Black community needs to overcome: one is the Ku Klux Klan, and "the other is Mrs. Johnson."  She recognizes how timid and fearful attitudes such as Mrs. Johnson's will keep the Black community from being able to move forward.

One scene the movie adds is that it shows the family going to visit the new house in the white neighborhood.  It is there, in the movie, that the family presents Mama with her gifts (in the play, this happens in the apartment).  The movie also depicts the neighbors watching them from behind their curtains, and finally Beneatha shouting "Howdy-doo" to the furtive onlookers.  She shows that she will not be intimidated.

A significant change is in the conversation between Asagai and Beneatha at the beginning of Act III.  The movie cuts out a lot of their political discussion.  It also has Beneatha blame Mama more than even Walter for the loss of the money, saying Mama should never have trusted Walter with the money.  It is up to Asagai, in response, to say that perhaps Mama sees things that Beneatha doesn't - such as Walter's need to feel empowered.

As for preferences, I like that the movie includes the family's visit to the house; I wish that it did not leave out the scenes from Act II.  In general, I prefer watching the movie because it brings the story to life.  Plays are truly meant to be performed - and the print version of the play has so many italicized performance notes that it really slows down the story's action when reading it.

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