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Good intentions?

I changed the color of my skin…now I know what it’s feels like to be BLACK!”

C’mon, you’ve got to admit you’re just dying to see the film now aren’t you? The film in question is the 1964 film Black Like Me based on the 1961 John Howard Griffin’s controversial best seller. I came across an article today marking the 50th anniversary when Griffin, a good intentioned liberal Texan who had done humanitarian relief work in Asia, began writing a series of articles chronicling his experiences the year before about what it was  like to be a black person in the South at the time. With the aid of skin altering drugs and a sunlamp (no doubt for touch ups) he darkened his skin and traveled throughout the South for three weeks, posing as a black man, detailing his experiences, encountering various forms of racism. Three years later, a low budget, independently made and released film based on the book starring James Whitmore.

At the time there was a huge fuss in the black media about the book and later film. (I still now recall as a mere babe even Ebony doing a huge multi-page article about the film) No doubt many black people at the time thought that if white people would see the movie and realize how mean they had been to us, they would change their ways. Well people were pretty naive back then.

Though the film was shown occasionally on TV afterward for a few years, and has been shown as well on Turner Classics Movies, the film is now controlled by Griffin’s estate and they have held up any showings of it for a while, at least to my knowledge. Then again, they’re probably embarrassed by the whole thing. I mean take a look at this still from the film:

Yeah I know. And a lot of people really took the film very seriously. It’s like an image from Birth of a Nation or an Al Jolson movie. Next time it’s on TCM I’ll be sure to let you know

3 comments to Good intentions?

  • I have this book in one of my bathroom drawers as we speak. It was an interesting read, I’ll say that much.

  • I feel like I’m one of the few people who just really dislikes this book. I talked about it on my blog sometime ago. My big thing is that you cannot fully understand anybody–any race, sex, or culture–in a six week time period. Maybe somebody should reconsider this film (and maybe the book too).

  • Jeffery Haas

    Maybe you’re right in saying that no one can learn what it’s like to be black in just six weeks but does that diminish the fact that Griffin made an honest effort?