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Hollywood & Politics: Then & Now [This Network is not currently active and cannot accept new posts] | | Topics
Passing - Hollywood's Take on a Quniquely Black American PhenomenaViews: 240
May 23, 2007 11:12 pm re: Passing - Hollywood's Take on a Quniquely Black American Phenomena

Linda J. Alexander http://www.lindajalexander.net


Thank you for joining Hollywood & Politics! I found your bio & work intriguing when I visited your site. I'm sure we can all benefit from your experiences & knowledge.

What do I think of "passing" as portrayed by Hollywood? I don't think it's often well-portrayed. It's a complicated issue & Hollywood, as a rule, tends to not want to really search the truth. Rather, many projects are superficial for the sake of entertainment.

The Human Stain was excellent. It allowed for depth in its tackling of the issue. Imitation of Life, in the '30s & the '50s, was a vehicle both times to showcase obviously white actresses of the time--Claudette Colbert, the former, & Lane Turner, the latter.

Here's a quickly-grabbed list of "passing" films from www.imdb.com:

1. Imitation of Life (1959)
2. Imitation of Life (1934)
3. "Queen" (1993) (mini)
4. Sapphire (1959)
5. Pinky (1949)
6. Trick Baby (1973)
7. Skin Deep (2001)
8. Illusions (1982)
9. Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)
10. The Human Stain (2003)
11. Black Like Me (1964)

Not all address passing related to black/white. A few are other darker-skinned peoples. The problem in trying to portray this, I find, is in how impassioned we all are, either way. People who "passed" were forced to deny part of their heritage. They gave it up for the chance to live a better life & there are more than we know.

Yet to not pass, to live in the world dictated by a darker skin color, also required the individual to deny a side of their heritage. Such people were/are as much "white" as "black." In today's world, there's something of reverse-passing. To embrace "whiteness" is often considered a no-no for a person who is even remotely dark-skinned.

Folks can't win either way, best I can tell. That was the case w/my great-grandmother. She gave up a lot & everyone always thought she was a hard, callous woman. She was but I think the life she had to lead--turn of the century, early century, deep south, bitter racism--was chosen because it would be best not only for her but for her children. She did the best she could when she had the chance.

That may be one of the reasons the issue isn't often well-represented in visible Hollywood products, I don't know. Just a supposition.

Queen was what I hope was a somewhat fair representation of life for a young woman who could really call neither the black world or the white world her own, despite skin color or family.

Pinky from the 1940s was poignant. Considering that it came out in the 1940s, it handled the issue thoughtfully & surprising maybe, it allowed for the ending to lean toward the lead character's ethnic background, as opposed to only her "whiteness."

An aside--when I learned of my great-grandmother's history, it was painstaking to uncover her siblings. She made great efforts to never let anyone know of her mixed race background & no one was aware she had at least 12 siblings. Slowly, I learned names & found some descendants.

One woman was related to my g-grandmother's sister, her grandmother. This family was raised American Indian & that was part of the mix. They knew nothing of the African American part of the family 'til I came along.

It so happened that my g-grandmother's sister, whose picture I saw, looked much like an American Indian. Her name was Emily according to all records but--surprise!--family members didn't call her that. What name had she gone by?

Pinky. No one understood why . . . 'til the stories came out. I've since found out that "Pinky" was a common title for light-skinned blacks way back when.

Thank you for the thought-provoking topic. I hope others will join in.

Blessings -- Linda

www.lindajalexander.net ** www.authorsden.com/lindajalexander
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