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A Raisin in the Sun and Filming in Chicago

Sadly, the on-location filming of A Raisin in the Sun echoes the racism in the play

People performing onstage
'A Raisin in the Sun' onstage. Wikimedia Commons.

When I started teaching general literature courses in graduate school, I often assigned Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun as an example of contemporary American drama.


The 1959 play, the first Broadway production penned by a Black woman, always went over well with my Texas students—as did clips from its 1961 film adaptation, co-starring Sidney Poitier, who died today at age 94.


At the time, I had no idea I'd one day live a stone's throw from this movie's Chicago locations.


Chicago Filming Locations


In the summer of 1960, the cast and crew of A Raisin in the Sun began filming on location in four areas of Chicago:

  • University of Chicago

  • Michigan Ave.

  • Kitty Kat Club (a gay bar on 611 E. 63rd)

  • 4930 W. Hirsch St., featured below

women standing before a house
Screenshot, trailer 'A Raisin in the Sun' (1961)
4930 W. Hirsch Street, Chicago, IL. Google maps.

Situated Northwest of Chicago's South Loop, this house on W. Hirsch St. serves as a major plot point in A Raisin in the Sun.


To recap:


The Younger family receives a life insurance check for $10,000 after the death of the father. The matriarch uses part of this money for a down payment on a new house.


Instead of resettling her family in a Black neighborhood, she opts for an all-white one. The property there, after all, is cheaper.


But, as you might imagine in 1950s America, the Younger family quickly runs into a roadblock. The neighborhood's white residents are vehemently opposed to an interracial population.


map
The Younger house in relation to Chicago's South Loop.


A "Black Movie" on Our Street?


According to the Black newspaper The Chicago Defender, sadly, the on-location Chicago filming of A Raisin in the Sun echoes the play's narrative.


Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Casaccio, a middle-class Italian family with two sons, reportedly objected to scenes filmed at 4930 W. Hirsch Street (the house in the photo above).


The family, the newspaper describes, did not want "a Black movie on their street."


Sigh.


Hollywood's Choice!

Ad in the 'The Chicago Defender' from Feb. 21, 1961.

Meanwhile, on a more positive note...


Owners of Chicago's Kitty Kat Club (no longer in existence), where scenes from A Raisin in the Sun were also filmed, cashed in on their newfound fame!


The gay nightclub took out ads in the The Chicago Defender reading:

  • "Hollywood's Choice, Make It Yours"

  • "Where Scenes from A Raisin in the Sun Were Filmed"

(I haven't looked at data, but I'm guessing attendance went up at the Kitty Kat Club in the early 1960s?!)


RIP, Sidney Poitier, and thank you for your stellar body of work, even amidst seemingly insurmountable odds.


Actors onstage
Poitier onstage with co-stars Ruby Dee and Louis Gossett, Jr. Wikimedia Commons

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