Starring Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters, William Lundigan, Kenny Washington

(Okay Film)

Born to a poor black family in the deep south, Pinky Johnson (Crain) grows up pale enough to pass for a white woman. She moves to the North, studies, becomes a nurse, and gets engaged to a young doctor. Returning home to visit her grandmother, Dicey (Waters), Pinky’s confronted with all manners of injustice and bigotry. Knowing that she could walk away from it all-return North-at any time proves to be a crisis of identity for Pinky. Dealing with a most serious subject at a time when the majority of people were not ever going to be receptive makes Pinky something of a noble cause. Racism and the idea of “passing” is handled well, but at the center of the film is its biggest problem. Rather than cast Lena Horne or another light-skinned black actress of the time, the studio forced the director, Elia Kazan, to hire a white actress for the role. It undermines the film and blunts much of its sharpness. Crain lacks the righteous anger that the role calls for and instead looks perpetually apathetic. It’s still a compelling drama but not the heavyweight its material had the potential for.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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