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Talking About 'Honky'

Features
by Sergio
June 21, 2013 12:08 PM
3 Comments
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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:

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3 Comments

  • alsalisbury | June 25, 2013 7:59 AMReply

    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 | June 21, 2013 1:56 PMReply

    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.

  • Sergio | June 21, 2013 2:18 PM

    I was literally thinking about Together Brothers the other day. It's definitely worth a mention. And I've always thought that Sykes was just stunning. I wonder where she is now? I recall she married Gil Scott-heron or at least was involved in a long relationship with him. That must have been traumatic

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