The Black Kino Fist: Black life as depicted in film history

Imitation of Life (1934)

"Less well known than the 1959 Douglas Sirk remake starring Lana Turner and Juanita Moore, the first film version of Imitation of Life (1934), directed by John M. Stahl, is actually more faithful to the Fannie Hurst novel and in many ways presents a much more socially progressive viewpoint than the Sirk version. For one thing, Stahl's version was ahead of its time in presenting single women as successful entrepreneurs in a business traditionally run by men. Even more significant was its subplot which addressed sensitive racial issues (light-skinned vs. dark-skinned blacks) that were rarely acknowledged in Hollywood films.

Stahl's version of Imitation of Life is also significant for another reason - Fredi Washington's performance as Peola. According to Jean-Pierre Coursodon in his essay on John M. Stahl in American Directors, 'Fredi Washington...reportedly received a great deal of mail from young blacks thanking her for having expressed their intimate concerns and contradictions so well. One may add that Stahl's film was somewhat unique in its casting of a black actress in this kind of part - which was to become a Hollywood stereotype of sorts. Subsequently, the studios cautiously used white actresses in semi-blackface: Helen Morgan in the 1936 and Ava Gardner in the 1951 Show Boat, Jeanne Crain in Pinky, Susan Kohner in the second Imitation of Life.'"

-Jeff Stafford for TCM

Status: Available for purchase

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