Monday, September 10, 2012

Fascinating Movie Find: I Passed For White

I'm an old movie buff, so over the weekend when my writer friend, historical fiction author Michele Stegman, asked if I'd ever heard of the movie I Passed for White, I was flabbergasted, because I hadn't! I said, "I've seen Imitation of Life, but not that one." Though I was thinking to myself, she must be mistaken, because I know my movies, Michele assured me that she'd seen it as a kid.

So this morning, I looked it up, and sure enough, I found I Passed For White, with a trailer available on Youtube! I was even more surprised to find that this film stars one of my favorite actors, heartthrob James Franciscus, in one of his very early roles.

The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by Reba Lee (a pen name), as she told it to Mary Hastings Bradley, a prolific author of mysteries, travel books and short fiction.

Wikipedia provides the information about the book from its dust jacket:

Reba Lee is a young Negro woman whose skin is almost white. Brought up in Chicago's vast colored neighborhoods, she knew quite early that something made her different from her darker family and schoolmates. Finally, grown-up and with a job, she ran away from home to another city and passed herself successfully as a white girl. Now began a difficult and tense, although fascinating, life for Reba. Intelligent and quick-witted as well as beautiful, she soon made a circle of friends for herself; listening, watching, imitating, she began to learn the knack of living in a white world, and outwardly at least, she was as assured and poised as any of the people she met. And then she met a man and fell in love with him and he with her. They were engaged, married.
 Fighting to keep her hard-won happiness, the secure happiness of being a white woman married to an attractive white man, Reba kept at bay the strain of a life of constant lying and an ever-present sense of danger. Until, with the knowledge that she was pregnant, came the enveloping terror that the baby might be dark-skinned. "Reba Lee", naturally, is a pen name. Mary Hastings Bradley, well known in America for her mystery stories and travel books, has set down Reba's story as it happened, simply and with its considerable natural suspense, making only the changes necessary to protect all of the people concerned.

After reading the dust jacket description and watching the trailer, I'm dying to read the book and see the movie!

Are you familiar with either one?  Also, have you ever known or heard of anyone who "passed for white"?  Not necessarily black to white, but anyone of a non-Anglo group who passed for Anglo.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

14 comments:

The Desert Rocks said...

Very interesting and sad that the author didn't or couldn't feel comfortable embracing exactly who she was rather than trying to pass for something she wasn't. Sounds like a fascinating book and movie.

Maria McKenzie said...

It seems that the people who do pass lead incredibly painful lives, especially if they cut off ties with their families. Sad:(.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

I've never heard of that one...but I'll be looking for it, too. Gotta love that movie poster...can it get any more Pulp Fictiony?

Maria McKenzie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria McKenzie said...

@Teri Anne: Tell me about it, LOL!

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I hadn't seen or heard of this movie either! When I saw the title, I was wondering if it was about the actress you profiled here a few months ago (whose name now escapes me). Fascinating story!

Maria McKenzie said...

I profiled Fredi Washington a few months back. This actess is Sonya Wilde. I'm not sure whatever happened to her.

Scarlett and James said...

We haven't heard of this one....

Maria McKenzie said...

I thought Imitation of Life and Pinky were the only movies around about passing. I guess those are the only ones that I know of!

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - I can't even imagine how difficult that would be. No ties to family, constant worry. Intense.

Maria McKenzie said...

I agree. Some have done it, but I can only imagine their pain.

William Kendall said...

I haven't heard of the film, or the book before.

Maria McKenzie said...

Yup--I don't think many people have.

mr roses said...

Passing, by Nella Larsen, is a classic on this topic. Reading that and the occasional short story - it was a popular plot in African American lit of the 20s and 30s - it's often depicted as causing a kind of soul sickness.