Fifty years ago, the 40th Academy Awards proved to be a watershed moment. The five Best Picture nominees — and eventual winner — all echoed the changing, turbulent times, not just in cinema but society, underscored by a tragedy that occurred the week before: Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
King’s April 4, 1968, assassination delayed the Oscars by two days, to April 10, and Gregory Peck
, then-academy president, opened the show with remarks about the late civil rights activist and his impact.
“Society has always been reflected in its art and one measure of Dr. King’s influence on the society we live in is that of the five films nominated for Best Picture of the year, two dealt with subject of understanding between the races,” Peck said.
Those two films also both starred the No. 1 box office champ of the year, the first black Best Actor Oscar winner, Sidney Poitier
(1963’s “Lilies of the Field