Pinky, a light skinned black woman, returns to her grandmother's house in the South after graduating from a Northern nursing school. Pinky tells her grandmother that she has been "passing" for white while at school in the North. In addition, Pinky has fallen in love with a young white doctor, Dr. Thomas Adams, who knows nothing about her black heritage. Pinky says that she will return to the North, but Granny Johnson convinces her to stay and treat an ailing white woman, Miss Em. Meanwhile, Dr. Canady, a black physician from another part of the state, visits Pinky and asks her to train some African American students, but she declines. Pinky nurses Miss Em but is resentful because she seems to feel that she is doing the same thing her grandmother did. Pinky and Miss Em slowly develop a mutual respect for one another. Mrs. Em leaves Pinky her property when she dies, but relatives of the deceased woman contest the new will in court. To raise money for the court fees, Pinky washes clothes... Written by
Broncine G. Carter
When actress Nina May Mckinney's character gets slapped on the left side of her face by the white officer, Nina mistakenly rubs the right side of her face. See more »
Patricia 'Pinky' Johnson:
Miss Em told me to always be myself, not to pretend. You told me that after I marry you, there won't be a Pinky Johnson anymore. How can I be myself if there's no Pinky Johnson anymore?
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I saw this film some years after it came out, in a Texas Baptist orphans home, as a preadolescent. In the years to follow, I developed a fascination for Ethel Waters, esp. when I saw her interpretation of Carson McCuller's "A Member of the Wedding".
When I saw the film tonight on American Movie Classics, a lot of years had passed since first having seen it. Ethel Waters' performance struck me as cowed and subservient. In the court scene while being questioned by the plaintiff's council, she actually flinched when he raised his voice. ...And I'm thinking, 'Damn, that woman is really intimidated.' Having read her autobio, as well as a bio on her, I'm aware that not one woman in a million suffered through a similar childhood: a b*****d born of a 13-year-old rape victim - unwanted and shuffled from pillar to post to eventually become a washerwoman...it's a wonder she survived.
Yet survive she did. Not surprisingly, she had a monster chip on her shoulder. It is my understanding that John Ford, the man who was to direct "Pinky", had such a run-in with Miss Waters that he quit, and Kazan took over. The word is that neither could stand the sight of the other.
The movie is an important one - and I'd like to think that the reason goes beyond the juxtapositioning of America's treatment of blacks in the Forties with today's suffocating PC standards. There is the understated acting, for one thing. Ethel Barrymore always played the dignified albiet intimidating elderly lady in her later years. Yet in "Pinky", she is strong without being absurdly powerful. How well that woman delivers her lines...!
What I also liked was, while the white majority were unkind to Pinky, I can attest as a Southerner (well, Texan), that Kazan presented them truthfully. He only demonized one woman: the older cousin-plaintiff.
It is surprising that this film wasn't presented in a more gritty format; that there wasn't more preaching in it, that it wasn't condescending to whites. None of these failings mar this splendid film. Forty years after having seen it, I realize a superb gentleness that isn't to be found in American films. At a guess, that's because a generation ago most films were made for 30-and-over adults, whereas today they're almost exclusively made for 13 - 25 year olds.
I will give "Pinky" my highest compliment: It is literary.
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