A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun

Overview
A Raisin in the Sun is a play by Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry was an African American playwright and author of political speeches, letters, and essays...

 that debuted on Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

 in 1959. The title comes from the poem "Harlem" (also known as "A Dream Deferred") by Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance...

. The story is based upon a black family's experiences in the Washington Park Subdivision
Washington Park Subdivision
The Washington Park Subdivision is the name of the historic 3-city block by 8-city block subdivision in the northwest corner of the Woodlawn community area, on the South Side of Chicago in Illinois that stands in the place of the original Washington Park Race Track. The area evolved as a...

 of Chicago's Woodlawn
Woodlawn, Chicago
Woodlawn, located in the South Side of the City of Chicago, Illinois, USA, is one of 77 well defined Chicago community areas. It is bounded by Lake Michigan to the east, 60th Street to the north, Martin Luther King Drive to the west, and, mostly, 67th Street to the south...

 neighborhood.

A Raisin in the Sun portrays a few weeks in the life of the Youngers, an African-American family living in Chicago's Southside sometime between World War II and the 1950s.
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Encyclopedia
A Raisin in the Sun is a play by Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry was an African American playwright and author of political speeches, letters, and essays...

 that debuted on Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

 in 1959. The title comes from the poem "Harlem" (also known as "A Dream Deferred") by Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance...

. The story is based upon a black family's experiences in the Washington Park Subdivision
Washington Park Subdivision
The Washington Park Subdivision is the name of the historic 3-city block by 8-city block subdivision in the northwest corner of the Woodlawn community area, on the South Side of Chicago in Illinois that stands in the place of the original Washington Park Race Track. The area evolved as a...

 of Chicago's Woodlawn
Woodlawn, Chicago
Woodlawn, located in the South Side of the City of Chicago, Illinois, USA, is one of 77 well defined Chicago community areas. It is bounded by Lake Michigan to the east, 60th Street to the north, Martin Luther King Drive to the west, and, mostly, 67th Street to the south...

 neighborhood.

Plot


A Raisin in the Sun portrays a few weeks in the life of the Youngers, an African-American family living in Chicago's Southside sometime between World War II and the 1950s. When the play opens, the Youngers are about to receive an insurance check for $10,000 from the deceased Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy. Each of the adult members of the family has an idea as to what he or she would like to do with this money. The matriarch of the family, Mama, wants to buy a house to fulfill a dream she shared with her husband. Mama’s son, Walter Lee, would rather use the money to invest in a liquor store with his friends. He believes that the investment will solve the family’s financial problems forever. Walter’s wife, Ruth, agrees with Mama, however, and hopes that she and Walter can provide more space and opportunity for their son, Travis. Beneatha, Walter’s sister and Mama’s daughter, wants her mother to use the money for whatever be her will. Mama does mention she'd also like to use the money for Beneatha's medical school tuition. She also wishes that her family members were not so interested in joining the white world. Beneatha instead tries to find her identity by looking back to the past and to Africa.

As the play proceeds, the Youngers clash over their competing dreams. Ruth discovers that she is pregnant but fears that if she has the child, she will put more financial pressure on her family members. When Walter says nothing to Ruth’s admission that she is considering abortion, Mama puts a down payment on a house for the whole family. She believes that a bigger, brighter dwelling will help them all. This house is in Clybourne Park, an entirely white neighborhood. When the Youngers’ future neighbors find out that the Youngers are moving in, they send Mr. Lindner, from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, to offer the Youngers money in return for staying away. The Youngers refuse the deal, even after Walter loses the rest of the money ($6,500) to his friend Willy Harris, who persuades Walter to invest in the liquor store and then runs off with his cash.

In the meantime, Beneatha wants to get rejected by her suitor, George Murchison, whom she believes to be shallow and blind to the problems of race. Subsequently, she receives a marriage proposal from her Nigerian boyfriend, Joseph Asagai, who wants Beneatha to get a medical degree and move to Africa with him (Beneatha does not make her choice before the end of the play, but we see a hopeful ending). The Youngers eventually move out of the apartment, fulfilling the family’s long-held dream. Their future seems uncertain and slightly dangerous, but they are optimistic and determined to live a better life. They believe that they can succeed if they stick together as a family and resolve to no longer defer their dreams.

Litigation


All experiences in this play echo a lawsuit (Hansberry v. Lee
Hansberry v. Lee
Hansberry v. Lee, , is a famous case now usually known in civil procedure for teaching that res judicata may not bind a subsequent plaintiff who had no opportunity to be represented in the earlier civil action. The facts of the case dealt with a racially restrictive covenant that barred African...

, 311 U.S. 32 (1940)), to which the Hansberry family was a party when they fought to have their day in court because a previous class action about racially motivated restrictive covenants (Burke v. Kleiman, 277 Ill. App. 519 (1934) was similar to the case at hand. They won their right to be heard as a matter of due process of law in relation to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

. The Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 held that the Hansberry defendants were not bound by the Burke decision because the class of defendants in the respective cases had conflicting goals, and thus could not be considered to be the same class.

Interestingly, the plaintiff in the first action was Olive Ida Burke, who brought the suit on behalf of the property owner's association to enforce the racial restriction in 1934. Her husband, James Burke, was the person who sold the property to Carl Hansberry (Lorraine's father) when he changed his mind about the validity of the covenant. Mr. Burke's decision may have been motivated by the changing demographics of the neighborhood, but it was also influenced by the Depression. The demand for houses was so low among white buyers that Mr. Hansberry may have been the only prospective purchaser available.

Lorraine reflects upon the litigation in her book To Be Young, Gifted, and Black:

"25 years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation's ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house… My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger (pistol), doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court."


The Hansberry house, the red brick three-flat at 6140 S. Rhodes in Washington Park which they bought in 1937, is up for landmark status before the Chicago City Council's Committee on Historical Landmarks Preservation.

Production and reception


With a cast in which all but one minor character are African-American, A Raisin in the Sun was considered to be a risky investment, and it took over a year for producer Philip Rose
Philip Rose (theatrical producer)
Philip Rose was a Broadway theatrical producer of such productions as A Raisin in the Sun, The Owl and the Pussycat, Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, Purlie, and Shenandoah...

 to raise enough money to launch the play. After touring to positive reviews, it premiered on Broadway on March 11, 1959. Waiting for the curtain to rise on opening night, Hansberry and producer Phillip Rose did not expect the play to be a success, for it had already received mixed reviews from a preview audience the night before. Though it received popular and critical acclaim, reviewers argued about whether the play was "universal" or particular to African-American experiences. The New York Drama Critics' Circle
New York Drama Critics' Circle
The New York Drama Critics' Circle is made up of 24 drama critics from daily newspapers, magazines and wire services based in the New York City metropolitan area. The organization was founded in 1935 at the Algonquin Hotel by a group that included Brooks Atkinson, Walter Winchell, and Robert Benchley...

 named it the best play of 1959, and it ran for nearly two years and was produced on tour. A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

, as well as the first play with a black director (Lloyd Richards
Lloyd Richards
Lloyd George Richards was a Canadian-American theatre director, actor, and dean of the Yale School of Drama from 1979 to 1991, and Yale University professor emeritus.- Biography :...

) on Broadway.

Hansberry noted that it introduced details of black life to the overwhelmingly white Broadway audiences, while director Richards observed that it was the first play to which large numbers of blacks were drawn. The New York Times stated that A Raisin in the Sun "changed American theater forever."

In 1960 A Raisin In The Sun was nominated for four Tony Awards:
  • Best Play - Written by Lorraine Hansberry
    Lorraine Hansberry
    Lorraine Hansberry was an African American playwright and author of political speeches, letters, and essays...

    ; produced by Philip Rose, David J. Cogan
  • Best Actor in Play - Sidney Poitier
    Sidney Poitier
    Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE is a Bahamian American actor, film director, author, and diplomat.In 1963, Poitier became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field...

  • Best Actress in a Play - Claudia McNeil
    Claudia McNeil
    Claudia McNeil was an American actress known for premiering the role of matriarch Lena Younger in both the stage and screen productions of A Raisin in the Sun. She later appeared in a 1981 production of the musical version of the play, Raisin presented by Equity Library Theater...

  • Best Direction of a Play - Lloyd Richards
    Lloyd Richards
    Lloyd George Richards was a Canadian-American theatre director, actor, and dean of the Yale School of Drama from 1979 to 1991, and Yale University professor emeritus.- Biography :...


1961 film



In 1961, a film version of A Raisin in the Sun was released featuring its original Broadway cast of Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier
Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE is a Bahamian American actor, film director, author, and diplomat.In 1963, Poitier became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field...

, Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee is an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist, perhaps best known for co-starring in the film A Raisin in the Sun and the film American Gangster for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.-Early years:Dee was born Ruby...

, Claudia McNeil
Claudia McNeil
Claudia McNeil was an American actress known for premiering the role of matriarch Lena Younger in both the stage and screen productions of A Raisin in the Sun. She later appeared in a 1981 production of the musical version of the play, Raisin presented by Equity Library Theater...

, Diana Sands
Diana Sands
Diana Sands was an American dramatic actress, perhaps most famous for her portrayal of Beneatha Younger, the sister of Sidney Poitier's character in the original film version of Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun...

, Ivan Dixon
Ivan Dixon
Ivan Dixon was an American actor, director, and producer best known for his series role in the 1960s sitcom Hogan's Heroes, for his role in the 1967 telefilm The Final War of Olly Winter, and for directing hundreds of episodes of television series...

, Louis Gossett, Jr.
Louis Gossett, Jr.
Louis Cameron Gossett, Jr. is an American actor best known for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman and Fiddler in the 1970s television miniseries Roots...

 and John Fiedler
John Fiedler
John Donald Fiedler was an American voice actor and character actor in stage, film, television and radio. He was slight, balding, and bespectacled, with a distinctive, high-pitched voice and a career lasting more than 55 years.He is best remembered for four roles: as the nervous Juror #2 in 12...

. Hansberry wrote the screenplay, and the film was directed by Daniel Petrie
Daniel Petrie
Daniel Mannix Petrie was a Canadian television and movie director.Petrie was born in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, the son of Mary Anne and William Mark Petrie, a soft-drink manufacturer. He moved to the United States in 1945...

. It was released by Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. is an American film production and distribution company. Columbia Pictures now forms part of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Sony. It is one of the leading film companies...

 and Ruby Dee won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress. Both Poitier and MacNeil were nominated for Golden Globe Award
Golden Globe Award
The Golden Globe Award is an accolade bestowed by the 93 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association recognizing excellence in film and television, both domestic and foreign...

s, and Petrie received a special "Gary Cooper Award" at the Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes International Film Festival , is an annual film festival held in Cannes, France, which previews new films of all genres including documentaries from around the world. Founded in 1946, it is among the world's most prestigious and publicized film festivals...

.

It was not rated by the MPAA and has a running time of 128 minutes.

1973 musical



In 1973, the play was turned into a musical, Raisin
Raisin (musical)
Raisin is a musical theatre adaptation of the Lorraine Hansberry play A Raisin in the Sun, with songs by Judd Woldin and Robert Brittan, and a book by Robert Nemiroff and Charlotte Zaltzberg....

. The book of the musical, which stayed close to the play, was written by Hansberry's former husband, Robert Nemiroff. Music and lyrics were by Judd Woldin and Robert Brittan. The cast included Joe Morton(Walter Lee), Virginia Capers (Momma), Ernestine Jackson (Ruth), and Ralph Carter (Travis, the Youngers' young son). The show won the Tony Award for Best musical
Tony Award for Best Musical
This is a list of winners and nominations for the Tony Award for Best Musical, first awarded in 1949. This award is presented to the producers of the musical.-1940s:* 1949: Kiss Me, Kate – Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Samuel and Bella Spewack...

.

1989 TV film


In 1989 it was adapted into a movie starring Danny Glover
Danny Glover
Danny Lebern Glover is an American actor, film director, and political activist. Glover is perhaps best known for his role as Detective Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon film franchise.-Early life:...

 and Esther Rolle
Esther Rolle
Esther Rolle was an American actress. She was perhaps best known for her portrayal of Florida Evans on the CBS television sitcom Maude and its spin-off series Good Times.-Biography:...

. This production received three Emmy Award
Emmy Award
An Emmy Award, often referred to simply as the Emmy, is a television production award, similar in nature to the Peabody Awards but more focused on entertainment, and is considered the television equivalent to the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards .A majority of Emmys are presented in various...

 nominations, but all were for technical categories. Bill Duke
Bill Duke
William Henry "Bill" Duke, Jr. is an American actor and film director with over 30 years of experience. Known for his physically imposing frame, Duke's work frequently dwells within the action/crime and drama genres but also includes comedy.-Early life:Duke was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, the...

 directed the production, while Chiz Schultz produced the production, which also featured Starletta DuPois and John Fiedler
John Fiedler
John Donald Fiedler was an American voice actor and character actor in stage, film, television and radio. He was slight, balding, and bespectacled, with a distinctive, high-pitched voice and a career lasting more than 55 years.He is best remembered for four roles: as the nervous Juror #2 in 12...

, who had starred in the original Broadway production and the 1961 film version. This production was based on an off-Broadway revival produced by the Roundabout Theatre.

The cast included Danny Glover (Walter Lee), Starletta DuPois (Ruth), Esther Rolle (Mama), and Kim Yancey (Beneatha).

2004 Broadway revival


There has been one Broadway revival in 2004 at the Royale Theatre with the following cast:
  • Sean Combs
    Sean Combs
    Sean John Combs , also known by his stage names Diddy and P. Diddy, is an American rapper, singer, record producer, actor, and entrepreneur. He has won three Grammy Awards and two MTV Video Music Awards, and his clothing line earned a Council of Fashion Designers of America award. He was originally...

     – Walter Lee Younger
  • Audra McDonald
    Audra McDonald
    Audra Ann McDonald is an American actress and singer. She currently stars in the ABC television drama Private Practice as Dr. Naomi Bennett. She has appeared on the stage in both musicals and dramas, such as Ragtime and A Raisin in the Sun...

     – Ruth Younger
  • Phylicia Rashad
    Phylicia Rashad
    Phylicia Rashād is an American Tony Award winning actress and singer, best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on the long-running NBC sitcom The Cosby Show....

     – Lena Younger
  • Sanaa Lathan
    Sanaa Lathan
    Sanaa McCoy Lathan is an American actress and voice actress. She has starred in numerous movies, including the box-office hits Love & Basketball, Alien vs. Predator, Something New, and The Family That Preys. Lathan was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance on Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun...

     – Beneatha Younger
  • Bill Nunn – Bobo
  • David Aaron Baker – Karl Lindner
  • Lawrence Ballard – Moving Man
  • Teagle F. Bougere – Joseph Asagai
  • Frank Harts – George Murchison
  • Billy Eugene Jones – Moving Man
  • Alexander Mitchell – Travis Younger

2008 TV film



In 2008, Sean Combs starred in a television film directed by Kenny Leon. The film debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast by ABC on February 25, 2008. According to Nielsen Media Research, the program was watched by 12.7 million viewers and ranked #9 in the ratings for the week ending March 2, 2008.

Cultural references


The 2010 Bruce Norris
Bruce Norris (playwright)
Bruce Norris is an American actor and playwright associated with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago. On April 18, 2011 Norris was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Clybourne Park...

 play Clybourne Park
Clybourne Park
Clybourne Park is a 2010 play by Bruce Norris written in response to Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun portraying fictional events set before and after the play and loosely based on real life events. The premiere took place in February 2010 at Playwrights Horizons in New York. The play...

depicts events in the same house that take place before and after the events in Raisin in the Sun.

Season 1, Episode 3 of Strangers with Candy
Strangers with Candy
Strangers with Candy is a television series produced by Comedy Central. It first aired on April 7, 1999, and concluded its third and final season on October 2, 2000. Its timeslot was Sundays at 10 p.m....

is based around a school production of A Raisin in the Sun, and features an excerpt from the 1961 movie as well as Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert
Stephen Tyrone Colbert is an American political satirist, writer, comedian, television host, and actor. He is the host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, a satirical news show in which Colbert portrays a caricatured version of conservative political pundits.Colbert originally studied to be an...

 reciting "A Dream Deferred" just before the closing credits.

External links