'I Passed for White' (Film Synopsis)
- 'I PASSED FOR WHITE'
Sonya Wilde & James Franciscus
In this overly dramatic melodrama, a light-complexioned
woman of Mixed-Race Lineage abandons her family
to pretend that she is a Mono-racial White woman.
She soon marries a wealthy White man, but does
not inform him of her Mixed-Race Lineage.
Eventually the pressures caused by keeping her
full ancestry a secret cause her to breakdown.
(excerpted from Sandra Brennan review at ' All Movie Guide ')
Bernice Lee, a student who is a light-complexioned
woman of Mixed-Race Lineage which includes
part-Black ancestry, attends a nightclub in Los
Angeles where her darker-complexioned brother
Chuck performs with his own jazz group.
Chuck gets into a fight when a White man calls him
a name and also insults Bernice -- due to thinking
that she is a White girl dating a man-of-color.
The next day, Bernice talks to her grandmother
about the incident and about school, where she
has been snubbed by both White and "black"
students after a White girl, whom she thought was
her friend, told everyone she was "passing" for White.
Bernice wants to quit school and get a job,
and she asks why she cannot "pass" for White.
Gram, a woman-of-color whose husband was White,
says that if she had to do it over, she would not.
Bernice assures her that she does not want
to 'marry', but only get a job as a White girl.
Gram still advises against any attempts at passing.
At an office building, Bernice is offered a job as an
elevator girl and is told that if she had written
'White' as her race on her application form,
she could have gotten secretarial work.
She then packs her things and flies to
New York, where, using the name "
Lila Brownell" and "passing" for White,
she gets a job as a secretary for an ad agency.
One night, she attends a company cocktail
party and runs into Frederick "Rick" Leyton,
who earlier tried to flirt with her on the plane.
He admits he had tracked her
down and they begin to date.
Bernice soon learns that Rick is from
a wealthy old New England family.
During a dinner party with Sally Roberts,
Bernice's co-worker, and Jay Morgan,
Rick's friend, Bernice is overcome by
her feelings for Rick, but when he calls
at three in the morning to propose
marriage, she tells him it is too soon and that
there is much he does not know about her.
In love with Rick, Bernice confides in Sally,
who advises her not to tell Rick that she is
of a Mixed-Race Lineage which includes
part-Black ancestry, because despite his
feelings, he will have to tell his family, and
they, Sally believes, will not allow the marriage.
Bernice tries to avoid Rick, but he insists that
what matters to him is whether she loves
him, and she admits that she does.
Bernice tells Rick's parents a number of
lies about her family, who, she says, live
in Richmond and cannot attend the wedding
because they are leaving the country.
After the wedding, Mrs. Leyton starts to
suspect that Bernice has lied about her family.
At a nightclub, Bernice nervously looks away after
seeing that her brother Chuck is in the band.
When Chuck approaches and takes her
hand, Rick viciously hits him and orders
him to take his hands off his wife.
Bernice explains that Chuck is a musician she knew from
school, but begins to cry when Rick argues that she left
Richmond before the schools there were integrated.
As she leaves the club, Chuck sadly shakes his head.
When Bernice becomes pregnant, she then
illogically worries that the baby will somehow
have either a brown or black skin coloring.
After her doctor prescribes exercise and even
drink to calm her, she goes to a club with Rick
and his parents and dances with a number of men.
Rick explodes and berates her for acting like
a "cheap dance hall dame," and when she
acknowledges a black piano player, Rick says one
would think she were friends with "those black cats."
Bernice now plans to go away with Sally to have the
baby, and if the baby looks "black", give Rick the
opportunity to have nothing more to do with
her or the child; however, after she goes
through a night of pain, she is taken to
the hospital, where she delivers the baby.
In a semi-delirious state, she asks the nurse if the
baby is "black", unaware that Rick is in the room.
Rick then tells her that the baby did not live,
and later, she is allowed to see the dead
baby, which obviously looks White.
Bernice explains to Rick that she was
afraid the baby might have been "black"
from choking, then cries hysterically.
At home, Bernice learns from her black maid Bertha that
Mrs. Leyton has discovered that the picture Bernice has
identified as her mother is a fake, and that Mrs. Leyton
has also seen books on intermarriage in Bernice's dresser.
Bertha reveals that she told Mrs.
Leyton that the books are her own.
Rick finds Bertha comforting Bernice and angrily orders
her to take her hands off his wife and get out, then
queries Bernice about her fascination with "negroes".
He accuses her of having slept with the black
musician and violently throws her on the bed.
She admits to lying, but says that the baby was Rick's.
Unable to believe her, Rick leaves for town to
stay overnight and think about their situation.
Bernice goes to the airport accompanied by the
still loyal Sally and reasons it is just as well that
the Leytons do not know the truth about her.
When Bernice arrives back home,
she embraces Gram and Chuck.