Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

October 29, 1949

On October 29, 1949, the Chicago Defender published Walter White’s review of Elia Kazan’s film Pinky. The film, a drama about racial passing starring Jeanne Crain and Ethel Waters, was the top-grossing film of 1949. White, who led the NAACP from 1931 until his death 1955, wrote, “I have never in all my life wanted so much to like a moving picture as much as I did ‘Pinky.’ As I bought tickets at the Rivoli Theatre in New York I hoped fervently that the praise of most of the New York critics and friends of mine, both colored and white, would be justified...Unhappily for me, I have to say that, as far as my judgement is concerned, [producer Darryl] Zanuck has failed. Some new ground has been broken but they are mere scratches in the vast field of human relationships the picture sought to plow. Southern white police brutality and lechery are vividly and courageously exposed. But one would never know, unless he had other sources of information, that Negroes, even in the most backward areas of Mississippi are not resigned to their ‘place’ and are not only working but making progress against the kind of conditions portrayed in ‘Pinky.’” This review of this film about racial passing is particularly interesting because Walter White was very light skinned and sometimes passed as white while working as a civil rights investigator in the South. 

The opening sequence of Pinky is particularly interesting for how it uses lighting, set design, and dialogue to encourage audiences to see actress Jeanne Crain first as white and then as African American. For more on Pinky, see Susan Courtney’s Hollywood Fantasies of Miscegenation: Spectacular Narratives of Gender and Race (2004).

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