Thursday, September 28, 2017


You don’t hear much about an early Elia Kazan film called Pinky (1949) these days. It concerns a light skin black woman (Jeanne Crain) who can pass for white. Ethel Waters and Ethel Barrymore both played supporting roles and all three actresses were nominated for Academy Awards. Even the title of the movie is odd since pink isn’t a color you usually associate with the product of mixed marriages. The theme of labile identity and an individual of one ethnic background passing for another was central to the earlier Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) also directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck, as a reporter posing a Jew in order to write an expose of anti-semitism. Plus ca change, plus  c’est la meme chose. Bigotry, racism and racial profiling are still issues, particularly with regard to black males and their interactions with law enforcement. Former attorney general Eric Holder has recounted how he had been stopped by police, once in Georgetown on his way to the movies and twice on the New Jersey Turnpike ("Holder recalls encounters with police," The Washington Post, 7/16/13). But what's the difference? While discrimination is ubiquitous in our current world, it’s not legal. There is, for instance, the Civil Rights act of l964 passed during the Johnson administration. The l967 Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia (dramatized in the recent movie Loving)  over- turned anti-miscegenation laws.  But there's even a reverse kind of discrimination occurring on college campus where overreacting in terms of triggering could get a movie like Pinky into trouble. How can a white director depict the plight of blacks or a non-Jewish director deal with the problems of “restriction?” Was Shakespeare qualified to write Othello or for that matter The Merchant of Venice, whose Shylock has become such a stereotype that the character’s very name has become a synonym for one who lends money? Today thought and free expression are under attack. While it’s illegal to discriminate against a person in terms of their religion, race, sexual affinity or gender affiliation, you're no longer free to express your thoughts for fear sensibilities with be ruffled. 

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