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Passing as Identity Crisis

Passing as Identity Crisis

The Psychoanalytic Turn in Hollywood

(p.68) Chapter Three Passing as Identity Crisis
Projections of Passing
N. Megan Kelley
University Press of Mississippi

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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