“How do you explain to your child she was born to be hurt?”
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary’s extensive analysis of Kohner’s self-hatred as a young black woman is both no-holds-barred and astute. He writes that “Kohner is made out to be thoroughly insensitive when in fact her choice to pass for white has to do with her rejecting the demeaning black world that is presented to her… When Turner chastises Kohner for insinuating she’s been treated differently at home, Kohner acquiesces that Turner and Dee never showed prejudice — but the script should have had her attack Turner for treating Moore as her servant.” He points out that while “Moore is made into Kohner’s whipping post… that might [have been] different if she had suggested to her daughter not to go to a black teachers’ college but to break down some racial barriers, be defiant, and improve the lot of her race rather than to be satisfied with the hand dealt with her”. Frustratingly, although “Moore may be the nicest woman in the world (which is why Kohner can’t help loving her)… she makes no attempt to teach Kohner pride in being black”.
Oscar-nominated Moore gives a fine performance, but her self-sacrificing character is almost too much to bear — especially as the film nears its infamously maudlin ending. The same could be said about Oscar-nominated Kohner (though for different reasons): while her counterpoint in the original film (Fredi Washington) comes across as an appropriately tragic representation of racial self-loathing, Kohner’s characterization as Peola (as indicated in Peary’s assessment above) simply makes one want to slap her for her insolence; something clearly got lost in translation. Speaking of intentions, the film’s most startling and revealing line — Turner stating to an increasingly ill Moore, “It never occurred to me that you had any friends” (!!) — could easily have helped the movie segue into an absorbing drama about a deluded white woman recognizing her tendencies towards racial superiority, and working to rectify this paradigm. Alas, Sirk had other intentions for his melodrama: ultimately, it’s the “Ross Hunter gloss and glitter, fantasy lighting, and perfectly designed sets” — along with an impeccably coiffed Lana Turner, hunky John Gavin, and perky Sandra Dee — that are meant to draw one in, not a tale of authentic personal redemption.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: