Racial Prejudice in The Movie One Potato, Two Potato
“Love is blind despite the world’s attempt to give it eyes.” Matshona Dhliwayo
Trevor Noah, a South African comedian my family loves watching, was born to a Caucasian father and an African mother. At the time of which he was born and raised, his existence was taboo. Interracial marriage was illegal in South Africa, so Trevor talks about how he had to hide from the outside world during his early years. No child should be perceived as illegal or wrong for something they could not control, like their race. Just as no couple should be criminalized for marrying the one they love, just because they do not share the same race. Though South Africa and the United States are oceans apart, anti-miscegenation is present in both their societies. It is only with movies like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and One Potato, Two Potato, and the Civil Rights Movement during the same decade, that the US takes steps to change their racist and restrictive marriage laws.
One Potato, Two Potato was directed by Larry Peerce and was made in 1964. The film is about the marriage between a black man, Frank, and a white woman, Julie, in a time where anti-miscegenation laws and racial prejudice were painfully present. Julie is divorced and has a young girl named Ellen from her previous marriage. Frank lives with his parents on a farm outside of town, which may explain his quiet, almost shy demeanor. We learn from his father later in the movie that he grew up and went to school with white people, and so Frank feels more comfortable around them compared to other black people. It is through frequent interactions with white people that he meets Julie. They begin a simple friendship and start walking together home in public. One night they do this, and a policeman tells Julie to take her “customer” elsewhere, meaning that he thought there was no way a white woman would want to associate herself with a black man unless she was a prostitute.
Afterward, Frank is furious because he knows the policeman would not have done that if he was white, but Julie laughs it off, focusing on how silly it was that a policeman would believe a soft-spoken person like herself would be a prostitute. Julie’s white privilege, in my opinion, shows in this scene, because, while Frank is rightfully angry and upset that the policeman blatantly diminished their relationship by calling it prostitution, Julie can and does ignore this, because being with Frank is the only reason why she was called a prostitute. Without a black man walking with her, there is no way the officer would have stopped to say what he did. Despite this incident, Frank and Julie fall in love and eventually get married. Frank father disapproves this relationship between his son and a white woman, for fear that it will make both of their lives difficult. He warns Frank that society is too interwoven with racial prejudice to accept a relationship between a white woman and a person of color. Frank is shaken by this and heeds his father’s advice by ignoring Julie altogether. Eventually, Julie wears him down by waiting in his car to confront him, and Frank tells her “… It won’t work between them,” because there is too much history of anti-black sentiments and racism between them. He is black, and she is white and there is too much hate between them. But, just as she did after the police-prostitute incident, Julie ignores the future hardships they will both face and argues that because they love each other, they can overcome everything. This convinces and empowers Frank to go through with the wedding after all.
During the ceremony, the camera moves past the happy couple and towards a white woman in the background. She looks disgusted by Frank and Julie, which exemplifies the taboo interracial marriage was seen as in the 60s and before. Even though Frank and Julie’s marriage was legal, society was not prepared for two people in love to be happy together if they were not of the same race. Frank, Julie, and Ellen move their new family to Frank’s family’s farm. Frank’s mother welcomes Julie with open arms, but it takes Frank and Julie’s new child for him to, finally, warm up to Julie. A happy, blended family. Unfortunately, the story does not end there. Julie’s ex-husband returns after abandoning Julie and Ellen after four years to get reacquainted and be in Ellen’s life.
Now, understandably, Julie is appalled that Joe is back after all this time, and refuses to give Ellen to her father. Sadly, this is when Joe sees that Julie has married a black man, and lives with Frank’s parents. Joe is furious because he believes Ellen will be corrupted as a result of growing up in a black household, and files for sole custody of Ellen. Frank’s lawyer tells him that, even though Joe abandoned his family for four years, Joe has a good chance of winning. Frank’s father tells him to run away with Julie and their kids, because he does not want the new family to lose Ellen, but Frank refuses and says he wants to fight. Later. he goes to the movies alone, and while watching a film where the Native Americans fight the white people, he screams to the screen, “Kill ‘em! Kill the white bastards!”, a sentiment that shows how Frank has changed with his views of white people. Previously, Frank worked, watched movies, even attended weddings with white people, but Joe’s actions have aggravated Frank, to the point where he is yelling at a movie screen and rooting for the Native Americans to kill the very group he himself is fighting against. Julie goes to Joe before the court hearing and pleads him to reconsider, which only infuriates him more, so much so, that he even forces himself onto her.
After this encounter, they go to court, and Joe wins custody of Ellen. Joe goes to the farm to take Ellen away, and Ellen, believing that she will come back to the farm, is miserable and extremely upset when she discovers she will be living with her father full time. She hits her mother in rage; she does not want to leave her brother and new family, and the only happy, full home she’s known. The movie closes with Julie running after the taxi Ellen and Joe are in, and Ellen screaming, “Let me stay! I promise I’ll be good!” In comparison to the other movie of a similar topic, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, One Potato, Two Potato was much more difficult to research about. While Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner has big Hollywood actors like Sidney Porter and Katherine Hepburn, One Potato, Two Potato actors were not known in the movie industry, and “… director Larry Peerce could not even get a major US film distributor for the movie…” until he got on a late night talk show and showed a clip of the movie (Turner Classic Movies, Film Articles).
Now, both movies touched on topics that were shocking and never before seen in films, but One Potato, Two Potato was arguably the more realistic. Showing hardships like losing a custody hearing and ending the movie with a little girl screaming about not wanting to leave her mother, it stunned the viewers during the time in which it was shown. Black men struggle with this notion that they are all dangerous, violent, and inhuman, and the way Frank is discussed and treated by some of the white people in the movie displays the anti-black, specifically anti-black men sentiments society still expresses to this day, arguably to a less extent.
History has a big impact on the creation and topic of this movie. During the production of the film, many laws and court cases were changing the way people, specifically people of color could live their lives. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an important piece of legislation because it prevented people of color to be denied places in public spaces, stopped the discrimination in the workplace, regardless of color, race, religion, sex, or nation origin. Frank and Julie met through their job, and so the ability for Frank to even work alongside white people is through the Civil Rights Act of ‘64. Another historical legal action that is significant to the story would be the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967. In this court case, the Lovings, a Virginian interracial couple consisting of a woman of color named Mildred and a white man named Richard broke the law by being married in a state that considered it illegal. They had to travel to Washington, D.C. to get married, getting around Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made it illegal for white people and people of color to get married. They were convicted for breaking the law and forced to leave their home for no less than 25 years and move to the US capital. Rightfully so, the Lovings were frustrated, so they wrote to the then-Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, and the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU), pleading them to help them sue Virginia. The ACLU helped the Lovings get their case in court, and the argument for the Lovings was that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law violated their “…the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” (Oyez.org). The Supreme Court sided with the Lovings, and that the decision to marry someone should be made by the individual, not the state they reside in.
Although Perez v. Sharp, a similar court case resulting in anti-miscegenation laws violating the 14th Amendment, preceded Loving v. Virginia, Loving v. Virginia, resulted in the United States abolishing anti-miscegenation laws in every state. One Potato, Two Potato and the Loving v. Virginia happened within 3 years of each other, and are direct results of the Equal Rights Movement occurring at the same time. With each law and legislation, people of color, especially black people, were becoming more equal, whether it was marrying, working with, or even using the same facilities as white people. Though it was legal, Frank and Julie’s marriage received criticism from outsiders, whether it was from Frank’s parents, Frank and Julie’s friends, or even random onlookers. It is only with adequate legislation and the acceptance of society that something as “revolutionary” as interracial marriage can be seen as “normal”. Though we live in a world people can get married, regardless of race, we, as a society, have a long way to go before they can be treated equally and respectfully as a couple like a white couple would be.
“Loving v. Virginia.” Oyez, 7 Dec. 2018, www.oyez.org/cases/1966/395 “One Potato, Two Potato.” Turner Classic Movies, www.tcm.com/this-month/article/253404%7C0/One-Potato-Two-Potato.html
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