There were several legendary films to come out of 1967, but the two best known by audiences today, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, did not take home the Academy’s Best Picture statuette. To those who have not seen this social thriller, awarding the coveted prize to In the Heat of the Night might seem questionable. But after watching the film’s powerful study of racism in the ’60s, it becomes clear that it best represents that year.
It tells a story of a black police officer visiting a small town in the south from his home in Pennsylvania. His name is Virgil Tibbs and he happened to be around when a murder victim was discovered late at night in Sparta, Mississippi. Being one of Philadelphia’s leading homicide investigators, he decides to stay just a little longer. As he assists the town’s hot-tempered sheriff in the pursuit of the killer, Tibbs is met with constant prejudice from both the police and the townspeople.
Overtime, Virgil Tibbs has become one of the most memorable heroes in the history of the movies. His persecution was something that every African American could relate to at that time, and his actions set an example for them as well. This is one of the reasons that Tibbs has been ranked 19th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movie Heroes of All Time.
Thanks to Poitier’s firm performance, In the Heat of the Night is difficult to forget. Not only is this a good film, but it is also an important one. It documents a shameful time in our country’s history that should not be ignored or forgotten. When taking this into consideration, there is no better reason for a movie to win Best Picture.