Watching old movies is a guilty pleasure of mine. A few years ago I caught the end of a movie on TCM that fascinated me, but I didn't catch the name of it. After doing some research, I learned that it was Lost Boundaries.
I was excited to find that TCM was showing it earlier this year so I set my DVR for it. After watching, the host mentioned that it was based on a book by William White. Of course, you know I had to read it. At only 91 pages, it's a brief but fascinating read. For reference, the family name in the book is Johnston; in the movie, it's Carter.
The book and the movie are both about a black family that passes out of necessity. For those unfamiliar with what passing is, it's when a person from one racial group assumes the identity of another racial group, generally because they have a skin tone or features that allow them to do so. In Lost Boundaries, a young couple comes from families that have been passing for years. While the couple is proud to be black, it becomes difficult to find work as a doctor when internships for blacks are so limited. To make a living and provide for his family, the doctor accepts a position in a small New England town as the local doctor.
The family continues on for years in their small town, even moving to another small town at one point, and their racial identity is never questioned, at least not to their faces. But when the father wants to join the navy, a background inquiry reveals that he's a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, a historically black fraternity. In both the book and the movie, the parents decide to reveal to their children that they are black, which sets the oldest son off on a journey to find himself and explore his new identity.
Written in 1948, Lost Boundaries is based in fact. It's interesting to note that the movie, made in 1949, didn't cast a single black person to play the roles of the Carter/Johnston family. Mel Ferrer, who played the lead, was Cuban-Irish. The others cast as the family members were white.
Published: March 1948
Scene from Lost Boundaries