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A Patch of Blue and Altruism

A Patch of Blue and Altruism December 9, 2021

MGM via “Daily Motion”

Well, the new West Side Story is coming out tomorrow, so why not talk about interracial romance on film?

Today’s subject is the underappreciated 1965 masterpiece by Guy Green, A Patch of Blue. The center of the movie is a young woman named Selina. Blind and under the grip of her abusive mother, Selina is both caged and crippled. Gordon, an educated black man, encounters her in the park and feels immense sympathy for her upon learning about her situation, and he decides to help her out. He does this at first by providing Selina with simple company, then by trying to teach her independence, and finally by trying to get her admitted to a school for the blind where she can finally be free from the grip of her vile mutation of a mother. The film ends with Gordon watching Selina drive away on the bus that will take her to a new life, their romantic feelings finally acknowledged but untapped.

The movie centers around the kindness Gordon extends to Selina in trying to rescue her from her miserable existence. Gordon’s brother insists there’s no reason for Gordon to get so involved in Selina’s life unless he’s expecting something in return. And indeed, we’re left to assume that Gordon does have romantic feelings for Selina, but he does not nurture them and even turns down Selina’s own romantic bids.

MGM via “IMDb”

Gordon insists that she can’t possibly know for sure whether what she feels for him is “love,” but a part of this also reflects Gordon’s own insecurities. Gordon feels Selina would never accept him if she knew the man who was helping her was black. (The film premiered during the height of racial tensions in the mid-1960s and was indeed controversial for exploring interracial romance.) And so Gordon steps into the background, content to have his love unrequited so he can help the girl he loves.

It’s the kind of movie where you spend so much mental energy trying to decrypt whether or not the lovers end up together that you overlook how special the relationship is outside of the romance. In a way, their love is so beautiful precisely because they don’t need to end up together. Gordon went out of his way to help someone whom he thought he could never be with.

Selina eventually learns that Gordon is black when her mother spots the two of them together, but Selina is quick to rise to his defense. The kindness Gordon afforded Selina is returned back to him when Gordon finds out that Selina does know the truth about him. “I think you’re beautiful,” she tells him.

And it’s here that we return to the paradox of kindness. True kindness asks for nothing in return, but kindness untainted engenders more kindness, and that kindness can’t help but eventually find its way back to us.

MGM via “Sunflower Theater”

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