“The Ineffaceable Curse of Cain”: Racial Marking and Embodiment in Pinky

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2009-11-03 00:28Z by Steven

“The Ineffaceable Curse of Cain”: Racial Marking and Embodiment in Pinky

Camera Obscura
43 (Volume 15, Number 1),
pp. 94-121

Elspeth Kydd

Look at my fingers, are not the nails of a bluish tinge . . . that is the ineffaceable curse of Cain . . .
Dion Boucicault, The Octoroon, or Life in Louisiana

The 1949 film Pinky presents a central mulatto character as a method for focusing attention on issues of race and racism.  As one of a series of liberal films released shortly after the Second World War, Pinky approaches issues of race and racism as “social problems.” Yet this film, as do others of this movement, demonstrates more ambiguities around racial categorizations than it offers solutions for dealing with postwar racial tensions.  Made during the Hays Code‘s ban on the representation of miscegenation, Pinky confronts the issue of interracial relations more overtly than many other films of its time by focusing its narrative on the difficulties experienced by a mixed-race woman. The character of Pinky faces crises over passing, as she is torn between her “birthright” and the “mess of pottage”  that she would gain by identifying as white.

Pinky uses the mulatto character to gain audience sympathies, exploring the effects of Southern racism by subjecting the almost-white main character to racially motivated degradations.  Significantly, the film embodies the mulatto through a white actress, producing an ambiguous interplay of audience identifications.  The film engages multiple deployments of the mulatto character: Through the actress, through the social context of the Hays Code, through the visual conventions it deploys, and through its narrative, which draws on…

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