Set in 1959, the story focuses on the Youngers, an African American family living on Chicago's South Side. They're anticipating a life insurance check for Lena's husband's death in the amount of $10,000, and each of them has an idea as to what he or she would like to do with this money. Matriarch Lena wants to buy a house to fulfill the dream she shared with her deceased husband. Walter Lee would rather use the money to invest in a liquor store, believing the income would put an end to the family’s financial woes. His wife Ruth, wanting to provide more space and better opportunities for their son Travis, agrees with Lena. Beneatha would like to use the money to pay her medical school tuition.
Lena spends $3,500 for down payment on a house in Clybourne Park, and after being agitated many times by Walter, gives him the remaining $6,500 and tells him to save $3,000 of it for Beneatha's medical school and take the remaining $3,500 for his own investments.
Ruth discovers she is pregnant and, fearing another child will add to the financial pressures, considers having an abortion, a suggestion to which Walter voices no objection, but Lena is strongly against, saying "I thought we gave children life, not take it away from them". Lena puts a down payment on a house in Clybourne Park, an entirely white section of the city. When their future neighbors find out the Youngers are moving in, they send Karl Lindner from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association to offer the Youngers money in return for staying away, but they refuse the deal. Meanwhile, Walter has lost the balance of the insurance payment to his friend Willy Harris, who "took the cash to invest in the liquor store" but in reality made off with the money. It turns out that Walter did not even put the $3,000 for Beneatha's schooling in the bank.
Beneatha rejects her suitor George, believing he's blind to the problems of their race. She receives a marriage proposal from Nigerian Joseph Asagai, who wants her to complete her medical studies and return to Africa with him.
Walter, depressed and angry, forms a new idea about the "takers and the tooken", an idea that repulses everyone in the Younger household. When Walter calls back Lindner to confirm the deal, he has a last-minute change of heart and seeking to restore the Youngers' pride, rejects Lindner's offer again. The Youngers eventually move out of their apartment, fulfilling their dream. The future seems uncertain and slightly dangerous, but they believe that they can succeed through optimism, determination, and remaining together as a family.Sean Combs as Walter Lee Younger
Sanaa Lathan as Beneatha Younger
Audra McDonald as Ruth Younger
Phylicia Rashad as Lena Younger
Justin Martin as Travis Younger
Bill Nunn as Bobo
David Oyelowo as Joseph Asagai
Ron Cephas Jones as Willy Harris
Sean Patrick Thomas as George Murchison
John Stamos as Karl Lindner
Sandi Ross as Earline Johnson
Rudy Webb as Mr Johnson
Martin Roach as Walter Lee Sr
Rosemary Dunsmore as Mrs. Arnold
Paul Stephen as Mr. Arnold
In his review in Variety, Dennis Harvey said, "Strong performances and a brisk pace downplay the original script's more dated, preachy aspects . . . No one will mistake this well-produced but inevitably dialogue-driven piece for pure cinema, but Leon and adapter Paris Qualles open up the play just enough to avoid the usual stage-to-screen claustrophobia. Mervyn Warren's score is a bit more earnest and old-fashioned than would be ideal for this essentially faithful yet refreshed take on a dramatic golden oldie."
James Greenberg of The Hollywood Reporter said, "A Raisin in the Sun never totally transcends its origins on the stage and it's a long way from cutting edge cinema. But those who can relax into the leisurely pace and lush language will be rewarded with an earnest and moving night at the movies . . . As he did on stage, Leon gets the most out of his actors and with Hansberry's words, that's what carries the film. Rashad beautifully captures the wounded pride and hopes of the older generation, while the rapper and music entrepreneur Combs holds his own in his first major movie role. Balanced between her mother-in-law's idealism and her husband's pragmatism is Walter's wife Ruth, who may be getting the worst of both worlds. McDonald gives the role a heartbreaking dimension."
In the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Rabinowitz observed the three-hour production "flies by with lightning speed - and that cast led by Ms. Rashad as Lena, is no small part of the reason. Ms. McDonald is heartbreaking as Ruth, desperate to understand her husband's descent into misery, and Mr. Combs, who portrays that husband, delivers a sterling performance."
Joanne Ostrow of the Denver Post said, "Overall, this Raisin is a proud, important addition to the history of stage adaptations for TV, one that could touch many more millions of people than ever saw the play, thanks both to its star power and the reach of the medium."
In Entertainment Weekly, Ken Tucker rated the production B+ and called it "a model of subtle adaptation."
The film was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Made For Television Movie but lost to Recount. Phylicia Rashad was nominated Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie but lost to Laura Linney for John Adams. Audra McDonald was nominated Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie but lost to Eileen Atkins for Cranford.