Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New York Times Reviews 'Pinky,' a 1949 Movie about Racism

Whether by coincidence or providence, I do not know, but tonight, after seeing a post at BlogHer.com on the complexities of interracial dating, I came across the 1949 20th Century Fox movie Pinky on cable via demand. The movie is based on a book by Cid Ricketts Sumner, a white female writer from Mississippi.

Predating movies such as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, and Kriss Turner's Something New, and excluding the 1922 version of Shakespeare's Othello, Pinky is perhaps the first movie to broach interracial romantic relationships. The way the story is told is very telling of the time when intermarriage between blacks and whites was illegal.

In the trailer the text refers to the white doctor who fell in love with Pinky as the man who "found out too late." The viewer is left to grasp the unfinished sentence to be "that the woman he loved was of Negro blood."

He could not possibly have known unless Pinky told him she was a Negro because it's the story of a black woman who was light enough to pass for white. She returns home to her black grandmother in the south after being a nurse in the north. While it has themes similar to Imitation of Life, I think Pinky is less well known, and God's Stepchildren, made in 1938 by black director Oscar Micheaux with a "colored cast," is forgotten even more.

The video below is the 1948 trailer for Pinky, and below it is an excerpt of the 1949 New York Times review.



While Ethel Waters, an African-American, plays Pinky's grandmother, the main character, Pinky, is played by Jeanne Crain, a white actress. Here is that excerpt from the New York Times. Notice that the writer presents racism as though it's something that must be proven and is not evident even though discrimination against African-Americans was more blatant and common back then.
Now that our screen has contemplated some bitter evidence of anti-Negro bias as it has crashed with dramatic explosion upon individuals in the Army and in "the North" ("Home of the Brave" and "Lost Boundaries"), it has remained for Darryl F. Zanuck and Twentieth Century-Fox to shift the scope of observation into that more noted arena of racism, the Deep South. And in "Pinky," their film upon this subject, which opened at the Rivoli yesterday, they have come forth with a picture that is vivid, revealing and emotionally intense.

Telling a story of a young nurse —a girl with white skin but Negro blood—who returns to her home in Mississippi after being raised and schooled in the North, this picture assembles illustrations of the cruel humiliations and abuse to which this girl is subjected after her identity is found out. It also presents a tender aspect of the mutual loyalties between Negro servants and white masters that still exist in the South, and it skirts the edge of a fragile romance between the girl and a young white doctor from the North. (New York Times, 1949, read full review)
Turner Classic Movies is currently showing the film for Black History Month, it seems. According to Wikipedia, this movie was banned in Marshall, Texas, when it was released. One writer said the producers "missed a golden opportunity" by failing to cast Lena Horne as the main character.

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