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Cinematic Identity

Anatomy of a Problem Film

2007
Author:

Cindy Patton

Cinematic Identity

Social identity at the intersection of Method acting and Hollywood’s “problem films”

Cindy Patton takes Pinky as a starting point to meditate on the critical reception of this and other “problem films” and to explore the larger issues they raise about race, gender, and sexuality. Patton historicizes “problem films” and the arrival of Method acting in Hollywood, and in doing so offers new perspectives on identity politics, from feminism to the gay rights movement.

Historians mining the studio archives would be wise to consider the astute insights provided by Patton and critical theory.

Film & History

Though largely forgotten today, the 1949 film Pinky had a significant impact on the world of cinema. Directed by Elia Kazan, the film was a box office success despite dealing with the era’s most taboo subjects—miscegenation and racial passing—and garnered an Academy Award nomination for its African American star, Ethel Waters. It was also historically important: when a Texas movie theater owner showing the film was arrested for violating local censorship laws, his case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the censorship ordinance unconstitutional.

In Cinematic Identity, Cindy Patton takes Pinky as a starting point to meditate on the critical reception of this and other “problem films” of the period and to explore the larger issues they raise about race, gender, and sexuality. Films like Pinky, Patton contends, helped lay the groundwork for a shift in popular understanding of social identity that was essential to white America’s ability to accept the legitimacy of the civil rights movement.

The production of these films, beginning with Gentleman’s Agreement in 1947, coincided with the arrival of the Method school of acting in Hollywood, which demanded that performers inhabit their characters’ lives. Patton historicizes these twin developments, demonstrating how they paralleled, reflected, and helped popularize the emerging concept of the liberal citizen in postwar America, and in doing so illustrates how the reception of projected identities offers new perspectives on contemporary identity politics, from feminism to the gay rights movement.

Cinematic Identity

Cindy Patton holds the Canada Research Chair in Community Culture and Health at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, where she is professor of women's studies and sociology. An AIDS activist and community organizer throughout the 1980s, she is also the author of Globalizing AIDS (Minnesota, 2002).

Cinematic Identity

Historians mining the studio archives would be wise to consider the astute insights provided by Patton and critical theory.

Film & History

Cinematic Identity

CONTENTS

acknowledgments

1. American Celluloid: New Medium, New Citizen
Back to the Movies
Race and Sexuality: Some Analytic Caveats
Acting the Citizen
2. In the Hearts of Men
To Die For
Popularizing “the Problem”: Politics as Melodrama
Into the Closet
Alienating Queer
3. Censorship and the Problem Films
Censoring Race
Cinematic Prohibition
Race Mixing
From Image to Story
When a Kiss Is Not a Kiss
Censoring Pinky
“Prejudice” and Epithet
The Dominoes Fall
Sacrilege and Race versus Sexuality
4. Acting Up: The Performing American
Signs of Apartheid
Acting History/The Historicity of Acting
Sound, Class, and Narrative
Narrative Sublation: Recalling - Forgetting History
The Question of Acting
5. Two Conversations:
Black and White Americans on Film
Reading (in) “White Time”:
Black Performance and the Demand for Literacy
The Victim - Witness Story
Distinguishing Wrongs
An Ear for the Master’s Tropes
“White Time”/Black Place
A Final Word, a Feeling, a Hope

appendix. pinky: a synopsis
notes
references
filmography
index