|“||They call me MISTER Tibbs!||„|
|~ Virgil Tibbs after being condescendingly asked what they call him in Philadelphia.|
Virgil Tibbs is an African American police detective who is detained on suspicion of murder solely on the basis of his skin color while passing through the small town of Wells, somewhere in the Carolinas (Sparta, Mississippi in the film). When Tibbs' innocence and status as a homicide investigator is confirmed, political pressure in the town leads to his temporary assignment to aid the Wells (Sparta) police on the case - despite the reluctance of the town's racist chief of police, Bill Gillespie. Tibbs is a diligent, hard working detective who does not accept the racism of his new surroundings. Constantly, Tibbs is the smartest man in the room, which provides intense conflict when the whites of the town have to seek help from a black man they are unjustly mistreating. At one point, Tibbs is flat-out smacked by a white man, who is shocked when Tibbs smacks him back. When his erstwhile supervisor, Chief Gillespie, remarks that "Virgil is a pretty fancy name for a black boy like you", and asks what people call him at home, Tibbs is quick to respond, "They call me Mister Tibbs!" In the novels, Tibbs works for the police force of Pasadena, California. In the films, portrayed by Academy Award winner Sidney Poitier, he first works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but in later sequels, he is shown to be working for the San Francisco Police. In an unusual step, the Tibbs films are themselves mentioned in the sequel novels: when asked about the movies, Tibbs emphasizes that he's from Pasadena, not Philadelphia. He also comments positively on Poitier's looks and acting ability.
The Tibbs character and his famous quote were both ranked in the AFI 100 Years... series. The Tibbs character was ranked as the 19th greatest hero in the history of American cinema whilst his famous quote was ranked as the 16th greatest quote.