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Talking About ‘Honky’

Talking About 'Honky'

So anyone who regularly reads S & A knows all too well
that whenever a film or TV show that deals with interracial
relationship comes up, for example, the recent Cheerios commercial or the Anchorman
2
trailer, it really gets a lot of people all riled up (or perhaps, more accurately, turned on).

Even the recent Anchorman post caused one of our regular readers to
even post a long list that dealt with an interracial coupling
between a black woman and white guy that he could think of.

However, he forgot a major one, which may not be surprising
since it most likely came out before he was born, and it hasn’t really been seen
or even made available for decades. But it was something of a minor sensation
when it first came out in the fall of 1971.

I’m talking about to Honky
starring Brenda Sykes. John Neilson and
William Marshall.

The film was an independently produced and distributed
film, which probably, due to its touchy subject
matter, no major Hollywood studio would pick it up for distribution. It was directed
by William Graham, who had an over 40-year career directing TV network episodes and TV movies. Honky was one of the
few theatrical films that he directed, and, not surprisingly, it’s efficiently done
and solidly performed, although it has no real distinctive flavor to it.

True, in watching the film today, it may seem very corny at
times and quite dated, but keep in mind it is very much a product of its time and
reflective of the tenor of the times with its strong anti-establishment message, back when there were student protests against the Vietnam War and urban riots seemingly every week.

The film deals with, of course, an interracial
relationship between two high schoolers, Sykes (who I think was one of the most
gorgeous women in films at the time and better known as Perry King’s slave mistress
in Mandingo) and Neilson, whose character’s
nickname in the film is Honky.

The flip on the concept is that it’s Sykes who comes from a well-to-do successful family while Neilson comes from a poor, dysfunctional one, instead of the more obvious way around.

Of course their relationship brings out all sorts of
anger and resentment from people, and the lovebirds eventually decide to run off
together to California in the hopes of finding a better life without harassment.

The unexpected twist however, is the final climax. Unlike
the accepted “peace and love and why can’t we all get along for a hopeful future”
ending, the film ends shockingly and brutally, which stunned
audiences at the time. No matter where they go, the ugly specter of hatred and
racism would always find them

Years ago the film was available on VHS, but it’s never
been released on DVD. But despite that, over the past few years, the film has
begun to develop something of a minor cult following. 

It is worth watching, especially from the perspective and attitudes
from 40 years ago and with the knowledge that, in many ways, things haven’t changed that much during all this time.

Here’s the trailer:

This Article is related to: Features


Comments

alsalisbury

This is why I love reading your column. It really helps to know history and especially the history of black film to have some poignant discussions here. I remember this film from a late show viewing that used to be so popular in the late 70's and early 80's. In my first year of HS, the drum major-white-was dating the head cheerleader-black. It was 1980, and folks were still in the flip out mode, whenever they'd walk down the hall holding hands. Having lived through that, (and bore the brunt of my father's disapproval of my Shawn Cassidy posters and eventually a white boy I really liked) it is really hard to understand the attitudes that still prevail when the coupling is between a black woman and a white man. Tired. Sad.

urbanauteur

Brenda Sykes along Judy Pace were indeed the most beautiful mahogany -hued sisters on tv and film, plus director William Graham made another underappreiciated film "Together Brothers" which is as close to a Luis Brunell/Rainer w. Fassbinder collaberation one would find, someday review that movie Sergio.

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