Sidney Poitier John Coleman - Essay

John Coleman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sidney Poitier probably shouldn't be accused so basely, but he does have a habit—since he turned actor-director—of making films that seem aimed at a black-white market and condescending to both shades. There is something for everyone in A Piece of the Action …: [the emphases rest] on jolly robbers, ghetto adolescents, even real problems. But the outcome of a largely black-staffed movie, with good intentions, does seem to turn on income: not what the film will make at the box-office but the way it chooses to deploy money in its inspissated plot. Poitier and the fine Bill Cosby are gentle villains who find themselves blackmailed into caring for a bunch of black dropouts at a community centre. While trying to suss out who has got them into this fix, they begin to bother about the prospective delinquents in their charge. Allow that there is some harsh language ('all you prissy-assed, middle-class niggers,' says an angry girl to a weeping teacher), but counter this with Poitier's cure: shelling out torn-in-half dollars against improved behaviour. Apart from a great deal of action, which lost me in its twists—there really appear to be three or four kinds of film uneasily cohabiting here—the central theme is rehabilitation, making things better, doing it (up to a point) the tough route. Alas, then, that travesties like Guess Who's Coming to Sinner? or A Piece at Any Price suggest themselves as alternative titles.

John Coleman, "Show Trials," in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 95, No. 2461, May 19, 1978, p. 684.∗