Watch: Brando, Poitier and Other Stars Discuss Civil Rights in 1963

By  · Published on August 28th, 2013

Exactly 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood with Abraham Lincoln behind him and told a crowd of 250,000 about a dream. Later the same day, a group of movie stars sat with journalist David Schoenbrun to explore a silver-lined dark chamber of the human heart.

Complicated despite its progressively stacked panel, the group interview with novelist James Baldwin, singer Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, director Joseph Mankiewicz and Sidney Poitier is robust in its inspiration – made more lucent by the evolution that followed it.

This is a powerful half hour (which you can see below) that stands at a fascinating crossroads between groundshattering history, celebrity power and race relations in America.

Interestingly, it was Mankiewicz who directed Poitier in his 1950 feature debut No Way Out – a film noir dealing with, what else, racism.

Through a modern lens, the most bizarre curiosity of the talk is the completely altered myth of Charlton Heston, a man who has become pigeon-holed by his Cold Dead Hands persona but who delivers a striking support of color-blind freedom and liberalism here. In the years following, his personal view would shift to neoconservatism, so it’s sadly too easy to think of him only as the laser focused defender of the NRA when his public life was far more vibrant, and included campaigning for John F. Kennedy and (of course) participating in the Civil Rights March on Washington. Hopefully this rounds out our view of this outspoken man a bit more.

This video should be required viewing for everyone, but the most depressing element is that it’s supremely difficult to imagine this kind of roiling yet polite discussion happening in today’s partisan infotainment environment. More than hollow pining for “simpler times,” watching this roundtable offers a concrete example of something sophisticated and poetic that appears miles away from where media is at currently.

Which is a shame because, for better and for worse, we’re still having the same conversation.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.