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USA 1949
Directed by
Elia Kazan
102 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Elia Kazan’s film is an early attempt by Hollywood (the film was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck for Twentieth Century-Fox) to address racism in the Deep South. Although Jeanne Crain, a paradigmatic-looking WASP, seems to be an odd choice to play the title character, a quadroon who returns to the Mississippi to live with her Granny (Ethel Waters) after having been educated in the North, that fact makes the wrongness of the humiliation and abuse she endures all the more obvious.

Philip Dunne and Dudley Nichols’script based on a book by Cid Ricketts Sumner is rather programmatic in illustrating the consequences of racial bigotry (with a side serve of sexism notably in the relation between Pinky and a white doctor played by William Lundigan). Some will object to the typological characters and the acceptance, even endorsement, of a paternalism embodied in Pinky’s Granny with her “Mammy” characterization and manifested especially in the relation between her and Ethel Barrymore’s Miss Em, the owner of the once-thriving, now-ruined plantation. Even more problematic is the film’s naively rose-tinted ending. Nevertheless, despite the limitations evident in hindsight the effort is commendable.

FYI: For a more compelling depiction of the relationship between a black mother and her light-skinned daughter see Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life  (1959). A comparable but less rosy rendition of a similar story is told in I Passed For White (1960)




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