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May 1994


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"Gayle F. Wald" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 28 May 1994 09:30:26 EDT
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I agree that Pinky seems a quaint Hollywood anachronism--I think it became
so quite quickly because of the rapid pace of Civil Rights in the postwar
era.  Yet I don't think that that means that it's entirely obsolete.
What's interesting to me about the film is the way that it manages to
naturalize Pinky's relation to a black identity; the film must avoid, at
all costs, allowing Pinky to "cross the line" permanently, so it has to
find ways to domesticate its heroine, to make the "return" to black
community seem inevitable and convincing.  The film does this in a way
that is quite similar to the way that women's films redomesticate the home
sphere for their heroines.  Plus there's the issue of the anxiety of white
spectatorship:  what were white film audiences of the '40s thinking when
they saw Jeanne Crain (well known for being a girl-next-door type) in
the role of a "mulatta" passing for white?  The film may deal with anachronis-
tic political and legal issues (e.g. should Crain's character be allowed
to inherit her white benefactress' mansion?), but the way that it
thematizes issues of racial identity (and the compulsary nature of the racial
binary) seem equally relevant in 1994.  I think it's healthy to be wary
anytime we want to congratulate ourselves for "progress"; in some ways,
a more recent film (like Soul Man, released in '92???) is more retrograde
in its thinking about race and gender than Pinky.