AFI Movie Club: THE DEFIANT ONES – American Film Institute



THE DEFIANT ONES was included on AFI’s 100 YEARS… 100 CHEERS list of the most inspiring films ever to grace the silver screen – and star Sidney Poitier received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1992. 

In this exclusive AFI Archive video, Sidney Poitier talks about making THE DEFIANT ONES: 


Movie Trivia about THE DEFIANT ONES

DID YOU KNOW that THE DEFIANT ONES was filmed on a closed set due to its controversial subject matter?  

DID YOU KNOW that director/producer Stanley Kramer was an independent filmmaker known for helming “message pictures” with themes that were prohibited by most major Hollywood studios? Among his many accolades, Kramer was the first recipient of the NAACP’s Vanguard Award for his efforts to showcase underrepresented Americans. 

DID YOU KNOW that actors Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis performed their own stunts in the film’s river-crossing sequence? On location at the freezing-cold Kern River, the men were shackled together wearing rubber diving suits under their prison costumes. The actors were carried away by the rapids but were finally caught 100 yards downstream by stunt men.  

DID YOU KNOW that screenwriter Nedrick Young was accused of being a Communist by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1953? Invoking his right to the Fifth Amendment, Young was blacklisted from working in Hollywood and hid his participation in THE DEFIANT ONES by being credited with a pseudonym, Nathan E. Douglas. His true name was not officially restored to the credits until 1996 

DID YOU KNOW that screenwriter Nedrick Young was revealed as the actual co-writer of the THE DEFIANT ONES shortly after the film’s release? In response, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences repealed an amendment that prohibited Oscar® recognition to anyone admitting or refusing to deny membership in the Communist Party. Douglas and his writing partner, Harold Jacob Smith, went on to win the Academy Award® for Best Screenplay.    

DID YOU KNOW that THE DEFIANT ONES was nominated for seven Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for both Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier), Best Supporting Actor (Theodore Bikel) and Best Supporting Actress (Cara Williams)? It won Oscars® for Cinematography and Writing. 

DID YOU KNOW that at the time of THE DEFIANT ONES’ release, most theaters in the South were still segregated, prohibiting Black and white moviegoers from congregating together? However, special screenings for integrated audiences were arranged by the Protestant Film Council to promote an “understanding between the races.” 

DID YOU KNOW that a special screening for integrated audiences in Montgomery, Alabama, was canceled when the White Citizen’s Committee Council protested that the film would give “moral support and financial gain to subversive propagandists”?  

DID YOU KNOW that Tony Curtis insisted on sharing top billing with Sidney Poitier? On the print of the released film, however, Poitier was billed under Curtis. 

DID YOU KNOW that THE DEFIANT ONES was remade for television in 1986? The remake was directed by David Lowell and starred Robert Urich and Carl Weathers.

Learn more at the AFI Catalog

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-THE DEFIANT ONES was helmed by white filmmakers who wished to bring attention to the racism embedded in our American cultural legacy, but it was also criticized for endorsing stereotypes. Whose point of view do you see conveyed in THE DEFIANT ONES, and do you think this movie could be made today? 

-How does the prison system treat people of color differently than white prisoners in THE DEFIANT ONES? 

-In our world today, important conversations about systemic racism are prevalent and timely. How does your family discuss racism, and how does THE DEFIANT ONES inform your observations? 

-The theme of two characters with opposing values being “bound” together has resonated throughout movie history since the release of THE DEFIANT ONES in 1958. Can you name any other films you’ve seen in which enemies are forced into inescapably close proximity? Why has this become a trope? 

-At the time of THE DEFIANT ONES’ release, most theaters in the South were still segregated, and Black and white movie-goers were prohibited from seeing the film together. What do you think it would be like to see this movie with a segregated audience? What is the importance of watching a film in a shared space? 

-How would you rate THE DEFIANT ONES? 

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