26 November 2008 | wes-connors
The Racism in Your Face
Well-mannered nurse Jeanne Crain (as Patricia "Pinky" Johnson) returns to her poor "Black" neighborhood, in Mississippi. There, she is welcomed by washerwoman grandmother Ethel Waters (as Granny). The pair are confronted by racism both outside and inside their home. Most importantly, it is revealed that Ms. Crain has been "passing" as "White". Moreover, Crain has become engaged to Caucasian doctor William Lundigan (as Thomas Adams). While working at home, to support Crain's nursing education, Ms. Waters has grown close to ailing Ethel Barrymore (as Miss Em). At first, Crain does not understand or accept the friendship between Waters, a former slave, and Ms. Barrymore, a former plantation owner. But, for her grandmother, Crain agrees to become Barrymore's nurse.
"Pinky" is a nerve-rattling classic.
Probably, the most obvious "debate" point was the casting of Crain in the title role. Crain was definitely "pink" enough (or, white-looking); but, her general "movie star" persona makes the casting decision seem risky. Yet, Crain, under Elia Kazan's direction, triumphs. There are so many ways Crain could have fallen into acting traps - she could have used mannerisms, make-up, and/or other stereotypical devices to "camp" up the "Black" - but, she avoids each trap. Crain performs the role with a great amount of dignity. She was deservedly honored with an "Academy Award" nomination.
Barrymore and Waters also perform well (as you might expect).
We are never, in the film, given a clear statement of facts regarding the heritage of Crain's "Pinky". My guess is that she is related, by blood, to both Waters and Barrymore. An attempted rape of Crain's character accounts, arguably, for her pink appearance; this might have occurred in more than one generation. It's also possible that a loving "mixed race" relationship was part of either Ethel's past. Making the "Black/White" history more clear would have only gotten the film into more trouble.
"Pinky" was quickly censored, and headed for the US Supreme Court.
One of the Board of Censors' objections was, "a white man retaining his love for a woman after learning that she is a Negro." However, Mr. Lundigan's "Thomas" is only willing to retain his love under certain conditions; and, this leads to a sharp, less "Hollywood"-styled ending. The Supreme Court was correct. Some of the film's best scenes show the way Crain is treated after other characters learn she is not white.
********* Pinky (9/29/49) Elia Kazan ~ Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters, William Lundigan