Growing up, my sister and I were fed a steady diet of George Bernard Shaw and Rodgers and Hammerstein. One of our favourite musicals of all time is R&H’s South Pacific.

But I am ashamed to confess that I’d never realised the significance of the movie, until today. South Pacific, as many may know, is about an all-American nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, who falls in love with a French man, and a young Lieutenant from Philadelphia who becomes smitten by a young Polynesian-French girl. The backdrop is World War II and the Allies are holding off the Japanese in the Pacific.

What you may not know, if you’ve not seen the movie in 20 years like me, is that South Pacific had boldly explored the complexities of interracial courtship, which in 1958, must’ve been quite revolutionary.

How much has changed in the 49 years since? Fortunately, quite a lot. Today, multi-ethnic families and interracial relationships are abound, and diversity is celebrated – not in all, but many countries, made even more popular by the Brangelina clan. As such, someone watching the movie for the first time must find it so strange to see “Lootellan” Joseph Cable turning away from the beautiful Liat simply because she is Polynesian, or Nellie Forbush spurning the love of handsome Emile de Becque because he was married to a Polynesian. Feelings of confusion may also be intensified when you hear Lt. Cable sing You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, where one is also moved by the same anger the dashing ‘Lootellan’ feels about how children of that era are conditioned to hate and fear people who look different. And then the irony sets in, that the backdrop of this movie is a war that was born of the same demons.

It is both reassuring and alarming to realise that the battle against racism was wrought so long ago (isn’t it inspiring to know that R&H were so far ahead of their time?).While we may now live in a world that by and large celebrates racial and religious diversity in love and family, the road to true acceptance and understanding still stretches long before us. Will it be another 50 years before someone watches a movie, say An Inconvenient Truth, and then wonder, whimsically, how enlightened Al Gore truly is?

I guess I’ll never know.