Guess Who's Coming to Dinner won the Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay for screenwriter, William Rose. Katharine Hepburn also won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The 1967 groundbreaking story dealt with the controversial subject of interracial marriage which had been illegal historically in most of the United States, and was still illegal in 17 Southern U.S. States up until June 12 of that year. Although legalized throughout the U.S. following the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, the topic was still taboo in many areas.
According to director Stanley Kramer, he and Rose intentionally debunked ethnic stereotypes; the young doctor, a typical role for the young Sidney Poitier, was purposely created idealistically perfect so that the only possible objection to his marrying Joanna would be his race, or the fact she only met him ten days earlier. Therefore, he has graduated from a top school, begun innovative medical initiatives in Africa, refused to have premarital sex with his fiancée despite her willingness, and leaves money on his future father-in-law's desk in payment for a long distance phone call he has made.
Stanley Kramer stated later that the principals believed so strongly in the premise that they agreed to act in the project even before seeing the script. Spencer Tracy was dying and insurance companies refused to cover him; Kramer and Hepburn put their salaries in escrow so that if he died, filming could be completed with another actor. The filming schedule was altered to accommodate Tracy's failing health.
Criticism was more positive than negative, with most critics praising the elegant, understated performances. The film also attempted to touch upon black-on-black racism, as when both the doctor's father and the household cook Matilda 'Tillie' Binks, played by Isabel Sanford in a small but memorable role, take the young man to task for his perceived presumption.
The film was also memorable for being the last on-screen pairing of Tracy and Hepburn (Tracy died seventeen days after filming ended). In Tracy's final speech of the film, Hepburn's tears were real—they both knew that this would be the last line of his last film, that he had not much longer to live. Hepburn never saw the completed film; she said the memories of Tracy were too painful. The film was released in December 1967, six months after his death.
The film also featured Roy Glenn and Beah Richards as Mr. and Mrs. Prentice. Richards was nominated for an Oscar for her role but lost to Estelle Parsons. Virginia Christine is also featured as a co-worker of Christina's. The movie's Oscar-nominated score was composed by Frank DeVol.
The original version of this film that played in theaters in 1967 contained the sarcastic one-liner "The Reverend Martin Luther King!", issued by the sassy black maid Tillie in response to the question, "Guess who's coming to dinner?", which is the key line of dialogue from which the film got its title. However, after the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, this line was removed from the film, so by August 1968, almost all theater showings of this film had this line omitted. As early as 1969, the line was restored to many but not most prints, and the line was preserved in the VHS and DVD versions of the film as well.