Lilies of the Field was more important historically than it may seem when viewed today. What works about the film is the interplay between Sidney Poitier and Lilia Skala, and the recurrent theme of faith that evolves from their friendship. While it may have been cutting-edge in 1964 for the Academy to give its Best Actor Oscar to an African-American actor (the only time in the 20th century that this award was given to an African-American), the story is only superficially about racial issues. This is the sort of safe depiction of a black protagonist that was considered palatable for white audiences in the 1960s. Not until black directors went behind the camera later in the decade would more challenging films (and less safe roles for black performers) evolve. The film has considerable dramatic power, like The Sound of Music without music. The primary themes are the importance of religious life, and the transformation of those who accept it. Formulaic storytelling notwithstanding, Poitier's performance is outstanding, and the film has a charm that overcomes its several weaknesses.