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Passing as Identity Crisis

Passing as Identity Crisis

The Psychoanalytic Turn in Hollywood

Chapter:
(p.68) Chapter Three Passing as Identity Crisis
Source:
Projections of Passing
Author(s):
N. Megan Kelley
Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
DOI:10.14325/mississippi/9781496806277.003.0004

This chapter examines how passing in Hollywood films that were produced in the late 1950s changed from being represented as an accepted external social strategy to one that reflected a psychologically motivated identity crisis. This is evident in films like Island in the Sun and Imitation of Life, which were portrayed as a pathological psychological failure to accept an imagined authentic identity. The chapter attributes this shift to a change in attitudes toward passing as the civil rights movement, the rise of black stars including Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, post-passing narratives, and the psychoanalytic turn in Hollywood redefined how Americans understood race. It suggests that passing evolved into a sign of a deeper internal psychological disability and became marginalized and relegated to unsympathetic and/or supporting characters. It also considers how anxiety about racial ambiguity was framed as a crisis about sexual deviance and masculinity.

Keywords:   passing, Island in the Sun, Imitation of Life, masculinity, civil rights movement, Hollywood films, identity crisis, anxiety, psychoanalytic turn

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