Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hollywood's First Anti-Racism Film?

Posted By on Thu, Oct 15, 2009 at 2:31 PM

Film Forum's current calendar makes the dubious claim that Pinky, screening tonight at 8pm only as part of their Elia Kazan series, was "Hollywood’s first anti-racism film." (Donald Bogle, author of Toms, Coons, Mammies, Mulattoes and Bucks, will will surtely sort this out when he introduces the screening.) But whether or not it is the first, it might still be considered the best. Something interesting happens when a white woman, Jeanne Crain, plays a black woman without any makeup. It plays not as farce but with the serious absurdity necessary for handling issues of race. After all, as one character says, "What's rational about prejudice?" What's most righteous about this film is that it avoids do-gooding heroics; instead the titular mulatta bonds with craggy Ethel Barrymore, who hates everyone equally, and finds strength in their mutual uppityness. The underrated Crain is always intelligent and deep, and her anger in this film verges on spooky, even spooked (that term meant with unintentional but perhaps appropriate irony).

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