How To Take A Stand (A Sidney Poitier Pep-Talk)

Here’s how you take a stand when the stakes demand it. 

The 1967 movie, In the Heat of the Night, is a story about a black detective from Philly who gets unexpectedly thrust into a murder investigation in a southern (and still racist) Mississippi community. 

In the original book and the screenplay, there’s a scene where a white businessman slaps the black detective across the face for asking a question. In the source material, the detective doesn’t react. But that’s not the way it plays in the movie.

In the film, the detective – played by Sidney Poitier, immediately slaps the businessman back without hesitation. It’s been called “the slap heard ‘round the world.” 

On set, Poitier refused to NOT react. In the world outside the making of the movie, the Civil Rights movement was gathering steam. Not reacting to a disrespectful aggression like this wasn’t in Poitier’s values. 

And so Poitier took a stand. 

The director and other decision-makers heard him. They agreed. The test audiences later cheered (and gasped, and other reactions) validating the decision. 

The book and script had already been written. But, there was a reason to deviate and it made the finished product that much better. 

If there’s a good reason to deviate, you deviate.