Pinky (1949), directed by Elia Kazan and John Ford
I saw this once maybe 13 years ago, and remembered liking it at the time. However, opinions change, so I’ve been wanting to watch it again for some time now.
Well, it is very much a film of its period when it comes to acting, production, and dialogue, but overall, it is a very good film, I believe. The blatant racism is downright infuriating at times, but if you can handle that, I think you’ll like the movie. The information copied below pretty much sums up the plot, so I’ll let that do the talking.
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It used to be called "miscegenation," and it hasn't been a scandalous or taboo subject for several decades now. (Every other prime-time TV series seems to have an interracial romance going, and nobody bats an eyelash.) These welcome social changes have stranded Elia Kazan's 1949 weepie about a light-skinned African American woman (played less than convincingly by lily-white Jeanne Crain) who tries to "pass"---and falls in love with a white man. Director Douglas Sirk mined similar territory, and got a lot more juice out of it, in Imitation of Life. To his credit, perhaps, the director of On the Waterfront just doesn't have cheap soapsuds in his blood, and he makes the fatal mistake of taking a solemn and high-minded approach to this overheated material. The picture isn't even a hoot. Ethel Waters is the aunt who raises Pinky, while concealing her true lineage; it's a strong performance with a simmering subtext of anger. David Chute
Pinky (Jeanne Crain), a black woman who works as a nurse in Boston, finds she is able to "pass for white." Afraid her true heritage will be discovered, she leaves her white fiancé (William Lundigan) and returns home to Mississippi. There, she helps her ailing grandmother (Ethel Waters) by caring for her employer (Ethel Barrymore), an imperious plantation owner. When she names Pinky heiress to her estate, the community rises in resentment, triggering a sensational court trial.
Pinky (1949) is a film directed by Elia Kazan. It was adapted by Philip Dunne and Dudley Nichols from the novel by Cid Ricketts Sumner. Originally John Ford was hired to direct the film, but was replaced after one week because producer Darryl F. Zanuck was unhappy with the dailies. Although Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge were considered for the role, producer Darryl F. Zanuck chose to cast a white actress for box-office reasons. Released by Twentieth Century Fox, it starred Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore (who was screenwriter Philip Dunne's godmother), Ethel Waters, and Nina Mae McKinney.
Because of its subject matter, Pinky was a controversial movie, and was even banned by the city of Marshall, Texas, where W. L. Gelling managed the Paramount Theater, a segregated theater in which African-Americans sat in the balcony. Gelling booked Pinky for exhibition in February 1950. In 1950, the First Amendment did not protect movies (Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio). The City Commission of Marshall “reactivated” the Board of Censors, established by a 1921 ordinance, and designated five new members who demanded the submission of the picture for approval. The Board disapproved its showing, stating in writing its “unanimous opinion that the said film is prejudicial to the best interests of the citizens of the City of Marshall.” Gelling nonetheless exhibited the film and was charged with a misdemeanor. Three members of the Board of Censors testified that they objected to the picture because it depicts (1) a white man retaining his love for a woman after learning that she is a Negro, (2) a white man kissing and embracing a Negro woman, (3) two white ruffians assaulting Pinky after she has told them she is colored. Gelling was convicted and fined $200. He appealed the conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. After Gelling filed his appeal, the Court decided the landmark free speech case of Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson that extended First Amendment protection to films. The Court then overturned Gelling’s conviction.