Virgil Tibbs speaks to many of Sparta’s residents throughout “In the Heat of the Night,” most don’t take his questioning very kindly, despite his cordial and professional demeanor. The worst of these reactions comes from Mr. Endicott (Larry Gates), who slaps Tibbs for even having the audacity to question him in a murder case. Though the original script had Tibbs keeping his cool after the assault, Sidney Poitier thought that was the wrong message to send at the time. “If [Endicott] slaps me, I’m going to slap him back,” Poitier recalled in a. “You will put on paper that the studio agrees that the film will be shown nowhere in the world with me standing there taking the slap.”
Poitier knew his kind of cache and talent as a performer, and the studio agreed to his demands. “I knew that I would have been insulting every Black person in the world,” Poitier went on. Considering the many racially charged issues that were raging during the 1960s and how “In the Heat of the Night” challenged black stereotypes and racism so directly, it’s easy to see Poitier’s point and why he wanted to change the message in the scene from being docile to standing up for what’s right. Since the film would go on to win Poitier an Oscar for best actor and the best picture trophy, most audiences were more than happy to see Tibbs give Endicott a taste of his own medicine.