in. Harry Belafonte was performing seven nights a week in Las Vegas when he decided to get married — for the second time, in secret, to a white woman.
The couple was determined to marry as soon as possible. So he and Robinson hatched a plan.
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Belafonte flew out to San Diego on the morning of March 8,soon after his latest show wrapped. He jumped into a car with his fiancee and her parents, driving across the border to Tecate, where the mayor himself married the couple in a civil ceremony. Then it was back to San Diego and, for Belafonte, back to Vegas, just in time for the next show. But when he was ready to talk about her, Belafonte made one thing quite clear: his marriage was not a political act.
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I married her because I was in love with her, and she married me because she was in love with me. Belafonte might not have worried about those bigots and backward people, but Hollywood did, and the industry was incredibly anxious about his film Island in the Sunwhich depicted two interracial couples falling in love in the Caribbean.
Despite the recently relaxed PCA rules on miscegenation, there would be no kissing for either of these pairs — it was just too risky, producers reasoned, to play something like that in front of Southern audiences. Ininterracial marriage was still illegal in nearly half the United States. The issue was increasingly appearing in court, as couples challenged local anti-miscegenation laws with some degree of success.
But the nation was still a decade away from Loving v. Virginiathe Supreme Court case that would make interracial marriage legal in all 50 states, and it was a hostile climate for couples of different races.
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Strangers might spit on them in the street, or leave threatening messages in their mailboxes. Movie dates were much easier when they entered separately. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, Darryl Zanuck was attracted to this hot-button issue.
The book takes place on Santa Marta, a fictitious Central American island with two distinct worlds — the world of the black native workers and the world of the rich white colonizers. These worlds collide through romance and politics, as the island spins closer and closer to revolt. The book includes several violent clashes between the white and black residents, including a dramatic climax wherein the murderous and frankly, worthless son of a plantation owner yells racial slurs at a black crowd until they attack and kill him.
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But Zanuck insisted on a bold script in letters to screenwriter Alfred Hayes. Later letters reveal he was actually pretty nervous about the interracial love scenes, urging Hayes to downplay the sexual heat. That altered kiss would prove to be quite the point of contention, and misinformation.
Many modern sources insist to this day that Island in the Sun contains the first interracial kiss onscreen, even though it clearly does not.
The cast complained about it a lot, particularly in the s of black magazines. But they insist no kissing. It opened to long lines and dreadful reviews, including from Belafonte himself.
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The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberty tried to get it banned in Arlington, even calling on the Department of Defense to keep the film out of army base movie theaters. A small group of robed Klansmen showed up to picket the film in Charlotte, but scattered once the police showed up.
Variety reported a cross burning outside of a Greensboro drive-in theater showing the movie. Fontaine claimed the KKK sent her hate mail.
In South Carolina, a state representative introduced a bill to ban the movie from local theaters, prompting Zanuck to offer to pay the fines of any exhibitor who showed it. This is all pretty bad, but in the grand scheme of things, Zanuck and Fox were expecting much worse.
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At the tail end of the decade, three very different movies dropped that mounted ificant challenges to the Code. They all came from frequent troublemakers, with the first being Billy Wilder. But it was a huge hit, and it only emboldened Wilder to pursue racier romps into the s. Subscribe here!
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Editor and writer. Formerly on staff at Thrillist and Maxim. Freelancer everywhere. Get started. Open in app. Kristin Hunt.
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