Clip | Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart - The Groundbreaking Broadway Casting of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”

Sidney Poitier, Lloyd Richard and Ruby Dee reflect on the unprecedented casting of black actors in the Broadway debut of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.”


Funding for Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ford Foundation/JustFilms, National Endowment for the Arts, LEF Foundation, Peter G. Peterson & Joan Ganz Cooney Fund.

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The material was nothing I had ever read of, nothing that I had ever experienced - even in the theater. She put together a group of characters that were just unbelievably real. She was reaching into the essence of who we were, who we are, where we came from. Poitier disregarded his agent's advice and signed on to star in Hansberry's play as Walter Lee younger. Then, for its director, he suggested his friend and former acting teacher. The journey of a playwright is a lot of times they establish a relationship with a trusted director, and I think that Lorraine Hansberry was very fortunate to have found Lloyd Richards, who was a brilliant director, who is a brilliant African-American director, who was very invested in her voice. When I met Lorraine she was very clear in what she thought and what she had to say. I think we felt that we could work together because we thought about drama in very similar ways.

When news got out that the respected Richards was casting a new play that might be headed for the Broadway stage it electrified the black theatre community. It did not matter that the playwright was unknown and unproven. She had written a drama with ten leading and feature roles for black actors: an unprecedented opportunity on the Great White Way. There were occasional roles that had been written by white writers. There were the 'dees, 'dose and 'dem kinds of roles which had no real relationship to the realities of african-american life. Nearly a thousand hopefuls showed up for the open call auditions, but Lloyd Richards knew who he wanted for another key role, so he sent a script to an actress who skills and talent he admired greatly: 36-year-old Ruby Dee. It was different. It was unique. I said I'd love to do Beneatha - this young girl who is the lover of things African. Lloyd said, 'Oh no no no, Ruby - that's not the part I wanted you to look at - it's Ruth. Ruth, the wife. I want you to be Sidney's wife.' My chin fell, because here I was going to be this wife again, because I had played this before a couple of times in my life. Lloyd said, 'Ruby, I need you to do Ruth. I need you to do this part.' I just told Lloyd whatever part he wanted me to do, I would like to be associated with this play.