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Pinky 1949 poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byElia Kazan
Written by
Based onQuality
by Cid Ricketts Sumner
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
CinematographyJoseph MacDonald
Edited byHarmon Jones
Music byAlfred Newman
Distributed by20th Century-Fox
Release date
  • November 1949 (1949-11)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.8 million (rentals)[1]

Pinky is a 1949 American drama film directed by Elia Kazan and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, from a screenplay by Philip Dunne and Dudley Nichols, based on Cid Ricketts Sumner's 1946 novel Quality. It stars Jeanne Crain as the title character, a young light-skinned black woman who passes for white. It also stars Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters and William Lundigan.

Pinky was released theatrically in the United States on September 29, 1949 by 20th Century-Fox. It generated considerable controversy due to its subject of race relations and its casting of Crain to play a black woman. It was nonetheless a critical and commercial success, and earned Crain, Barrymore and Waters Academy Award nominations.


Jeanne Crain and Ethel Waters
Jeanne Crain and Ethel Waters

Pinky Johnson (Jeanne Crain) returns to the South to visit Dicey (Ethel Waters), the illiterate black laundress grandmother who raised her. Pinky confesses to Dicey that she passed for white while studying to be a nurse in the North. She had also fallen in love with white Dr. Thomas Adams (William Lundigan), who knows nothing about her black heritage.

Pinky is harassed by racist local law enforcement while attempting to reclaim money owed to her grandmother. Later two white men try to sexually assault her. Dr. Canady (Kenny Washington), a black physician, asks Pinky to train black students who want to become nurses, but Pinky tells him she plans to return North.

Dicey asks her to stay temporarily to care for her ailing, elderly white friend and neighbor, Miss Em (Ethel Barrymore). Pinky has always disliked Miss Em and lumps her in with the other bigots in the area. Pinky relents and agrees to tend Miss Em after learning that she personally cared for Dicey when she had pneumonia. Pinky nurses the strong-willed Miss Em, but does not hide her resentment. As they spend time together, however, she grows to like and respect her patient.

Miss Em bequeaths Pinky her stately house and property when she dies, but greedy relative Melba Wooley (Evelyn Varden) challenges the will. Everyone advises Pinky that she has no chance of winning, but something she herself does not fully comprehend makes her go on. Pinky begs retiring Judge Walker (Basil Ruysdael), an old friend of Miss Em's, to defend her in court. With great reluctance, he agrees to take the case. Pinky washes clothes by hand when her grandmother is sick in order to pay court expenses. At the trial, despite hostile white spectators and the non-appearance of the only defense witness, presiding Judge Shoreham unexpectedly rules in Pinky's favor. When Pinky thanks her attorney, he coldly informs her that justice was served, but not the interests of the community in his opinion.

Tom, who has tracked Pinky down, wants her to sell the inherited property, resume her masquerade as a white woman, marry him and leave the South, but she refuses, firmly believing that Miss Em intended her to use the house and property for some purpose. As a result, they part. In the end, Pinky establishes "Miss Em's Clinic and Nursery School" within her community.


Production notes

John Ford was originally hired to direct the film but was replaced after one week because producer Darryl F. Zanuck was unhappy with the dailies.[2]


Both Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge were interested in playing the role of Pinky.[3][4] In the end, Jeanne Crain was chosen. Elia Kazan, who assumed directing duties when John Ford was fired, was unhappy with the casting choice, and later said, "Jeanne Crain was a sweet girl, but she was like a Sunday school teacher. I did my best with her, but she didn't have any fire. The only good thing about her was that it went so far in the direction of no temperament that you felt Pinky was floating through all of her experiences without reacting to them, which is what 'passing' is."[5]

Marshall controversy

Pinky enjoyed wide success in the southern United States, but was banned by the city of Marshall, Texas for its subject matter. There, W.L. Gelling managed the segregated Paramount Theater, where Blacks were restricted to the balcony. Gelling booked Pinky for exhibition in February 1950, a year in which the First Amendment did not protect movies, subsequent to Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio (1915).

Marshall's city commission "reactivated" the Board of Censors, established by a 1921 ordinance, and designated five new members who demanded the submission of the picture for approval. They disapproved its showing, stating that it was "prejudicial to the best interests of the citizens of the City of Marshall." Gelling exhibited the film anyway, and was charged with a misdemeanor.

Three members of the Board of Censors testified that they objected to the picture because it depicted a white man retaining his love for a woman after learning she was a Negro; a white man kissing and embracing a Negro woman; and two white ruffians assaulting Pinky after she tells them she is colored. Gelling was convicted and fined $200. He appealed the conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.

After Gelling filed his appeal, the court decided the landmark free speech case of Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson (1952) that extended First Amendment protection to films. The court then overturned Gelling's conviction.[6]

Box-office performance

Pinky was 20th Century-Fox's second-most-successful film of 1949 (after I Was a Male War Bride) and the year's sixth-highest-grossing.[1]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result
1950 Academy Awards Best Actress Jeanne Crain Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Ethel Barrymore Nominated
Ethel Waters Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written Film Concerning American Scene Philip Dunne and Dudley Nichols Nominated

See also


  1. ^ a b Top 20 Films of 1949 by Domestic Revenue
  2. ^ DVD, Pinky, commentary track by Kenneth Geist.
  3. ^ Bourne, Stephen (2007). Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather. Scarecrow Press. pp. 72. ISBN 978-0-810-85902-9.
  4. ^ Squires, Catherine (2009). African Americans and the Media. 9. Polity. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-745-64034-1.
  5. ^ Bourne 2007, pp.74–75
  6. ^ "Gelling v. State of Texas, 343 U.S. 960 (1952)". Retrieved 2007-08-22.

External links

This page was last edited on 1 November 2021, at 06:51
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