NO WAY OUT, a 50s film noir, marks the feature film debut of AFI Life Achievement Award honoree and AFI Board of Trustees emeritus Sidney Poitier.
AFI Movie Club Tribute to Sidney Poitier: NO WAY OUT
Richard Widmark to Sidney Poitier: “A Man We All Admire”
DID YOU KNOW? NO WAY OUT marked the feature film debut for both AFI Life Achievement Award honoree Sidney Poitier and Ossie Davis. It was also the first of many films that Davis performed in with his wife, Ruby Dee.
DID YOU KNOW? Screen rights to the original story of NO WAY OUT by Lesser Samuels were purchased by the Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation in January 1949 and included a 10-week contract for Samuels to write the screenplay. Other major studios bid for the literary source – including Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros. and Columbia.
DID YOU KNOW? Writer Lesser Samuels told The New York Times that he originally wanted to write about “the cancerous results of hatred” but did not intend to focus on an African American doctor until he learned about the fiancé of his colleague’s daughter, who faced discrimination as a Black physician.
DID YOU KNOW? Fox production head Darryl F. Zanuck stated that the mission of the film was to “conscientiously avoid propaganda, but at the same time the final result of our efforts should be a picture which is actually powerful propaganda against intolerance.” However, he worried that the picture might provoke violence and predicted it would be banned in certain regions of the country.
DID YOU KNOW? NO WAY OUT was considered to be one of the first cinematic attempts to show Black culture as part of everyday American life, as opposed to representing Black characters only within the African American community.
DID YOU KNOW? In 1950, NO WAY OUT was condemned by the National League of Decency, and Chicago law enforcement banned the film from exhibition in fear that it would cause racial unrest. The NAACP objected, calling the movie “the most forthright and courageous picturization of the evil of race prejudice that has yet been made.” The ban was lifted after roughly four minutes of footage were excised, particularly scenes of people preparing for a riot and the subsequent victory for African Americans. The edited version was shown in other states including Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. At that time, Fox made no attempt to distribute the film in the South.
DID YOU KNOW? NO WAY OUT was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Writing (Story and Screenplay) for Joseph L. Mankiewicz. That same year, Mankiewicz also won two Academy Awards®, for writing and directing ALL ABOUT EVE.
Learn more at the AFI Catalog.
The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Discussion Questions
- NO WAY OUT was controversial for its depiction of racial unrest and its abundant use of offensive racial epithets. Do you agree with the decision to edit and censor this picture at the time of its release? Given the profound impact movies have in shaping culture, do you think that there should be limits on what is represented on screen? Who should make these decisions?
- In NO WAY OUT, Dr. Luther Brooks – the first and only African American doctor at his hospital – makes a diagnosis that costs a man’s life, and this incident leaves Brooks struggling to prove his integrity in the wake of a race riot. How does this vision of American life compare with the struggles people of color face today, as the country fights institutional discrimination with Black Lives Matter? How far have we come as a nation, and what has not changed?
- Describe a scene that you remember best from NO WAY OUT and consider its impact on you. What makes it so memorable? Think about the lighting, camera work and production design as well as the dialogue. How do the filmmakers use various techniques to evoke emotional responses?
- While Dr. Dan Wharton is the mentor and supporter of Dr. Luther Brooks, he fails to secure the autopsy that will clear Brooks’ name and then disappears from the story when Brooks finally turns himself over to the police. What does this say about the role of white liberals in the fight against racial discrimination? Why must Brooks sacrifice himself in order to safeguard his innocence? How does the moral complexity of the characters in NO WAY OUT impact the story?
- At the end of the movie, Dr. Luther Brooks tends to the wounds of Ray, a man who intended to kill him, saying that he “can’t kill a man just ‘cause he hates me.” What did you think of this resolution to the story?
- How would you rate NO WAY OUT?
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