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Hollywood & Politics: Then & Now
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Passing - Hollywood's Take on a Quniquely Black American PhenomenaViews: 973
May 23, 2007 4:11 amPassing - Hollywood's Take on a Quniquely Black American Phenomena#

Charles Grimmett

Linda,

What do you think about the subject of "passing" as portrayed by Hollywood?  The act of some black Americans escaping by denying their race and heritage and living as white is a taboo subject that is seldom discussed, much less displayed in creative works of any kind.

The recent movie The Human Stain and a older one Imitation of Life both address the subject powerfully. However, I find neither are discussed much as films in terms of their validity in protrayal of the internal effect of racism within the black community or in terms of guilt of the white mainstream.

Do you know of any other films on the subject?  Do you think this subject is still worthy of use in American films today?  Do you feel America can honestly have meaningful discussions on films that discuss race and the more personal aspects of the effects racism has on society?

 



Charles Grimmett
http://www.senojsystems.com
http://geocities.com/reaper1147
reaper1147@yahoo.com

Private Reply to Charles Grimmett

May 23, 2007 11:12 pmre: Passing - Hollywood's Take on a Quniquely Black American Phenomena#

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

Charles:

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
HOLLYWOOD & POLITICS - http://hollywoodpolitics-network.ryze.com/
http://www.talk2bev.com/valentine/linda_alexander_maryland.htm
Bev Mahone's '07 Valentine's Contest Essay Top 5 Winner!

Private Reply to Linda J. Alexander http://www.lindajalexander.net

Sep 09, 2007 3:55 pmre: re: Passing - Hollywood's Take on a Quniquely Black American Phenomena#

Vannie Ryanes
Personally, I think that Hollywood has done a pretty good job of working with what it has been given on this subject. I think the very best film concerning 'passing' is "Lost Boundaries" (1949) with Mel Fererre. I recently put this in my Amazon basket.

I believe that 'passing' is often a case of economics. Sadly, once you do, I would think that it is hard to go back. In the film “The Human Stain”, the advantages and the disadvantages of passing are clearly shown.

I saw “Black Like Me“. I would have to see it again to recall if is was good, but even then, I appreciated that someone would try to get into someone else's skin, to feel what they felt. I saw both “Imitation of Life's” and felt great pain (and disdain) for the young woman who was ashamed of her mother's color, yet loved her so much. I saw it again years later and better understood how conflicted the young girls life must have been.

I also saw the British film “Sapphire” and was as outraged as I could be at a young age, that such blatant racism was on the screen for everyone to see. Sapphire's White wardrobe and her Black wardrobe were worlds apart--I felt that her wardrobe held a hidden message in plain site.

I recently saw “The Human Stain“, not so much for the subject; I wanted to see if it held to the Philip Roth book. I agree that the film was excellent; Philip Roth is an excellent writer. Most of his novels are biographical so I started trying to guess who Silk was (or is).

By the way "I Passed for White" came out in 1960.

Very interesting subject.

Vannie

Private Reply to Vannie Ryanes

Sep 10, 2007 3:08 amre: re: re: Passing - Hollywood's Take on a Quniquely Black American Phenomena#

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

Vannie:

I agree wholeheartedly that the concept of passing was a case of economics, as well as personal need. The society was such that a black person was treated very badly -- at best. They couldn't do for their family as well as a white person could. They couldn't be seen as a person of any merit because they weren't a white person. It was, I have to believe, a horrible period in time.

And then we have those folks who are already of mixed race. They are black, yet they are white; however, they can't really be either because the fabric of the world in which they live won't allow that to happen. Such a conflicted existence! And then when they become old enough, & if they're light-skinned enough, they find that by playing life by the rules laid out by the dominant leads -- right or wrong -- they can live a better life. Their families can live a better life.

I can't fault anyone who had to make that choice because they were tearing out half their heart to do so.


Blessings -- Linda

www.lindajalexander.net ** www.authorsden.com/lindajalexander
HOLLYWOOD & POLITICS - http://hollywoodpolitics-network.ryze.com/
http://www.talk2bev.com/valentine/linda_alexander_maryland.htm
Bev Mahone's '07 Valentine's Contest Essay Top 5 Winner!

Private Reply to Linda J. Alexander http://www.lindajalexander.net

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