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June 27: “Imitation of Life”

June 26, 2015

imitation-of-life-14The filming of Imitation of Life, a ground-breaking American feature film on the theme of race, began on this date in 1934. John M. Stahl (Jacob Morris Strelitsky, 1886-1950) was the director, and the film was based on a novel by Fannie Hurst, about the tribulations of two entrepreneurial women, one white (Claudette Colbert), one black (Louise Beavers), and their daughters, including one who is passing as white. The novel was inspired by a road trip that Hurst took to Canada with Zora Neale Hurston. Hollywood’s censorial Production Code Administration nearly blocked the movie’s production more than once, objecting to the implicit theme of “miscegenation” (the black daughter who looks white is, after all, biracial) and to a scene of a near-lynching of a young black man. The film was nevertheless nominated for three Academy Awards, including for Best Picture. To see the film’s trailer, look below.

Delilah: What’s my baby want?
Peola: I want to be white, like I look.
Delilah: Peola!
Peola: Look at me. Am I not white? Isn’t that a white girl there?
Delilah: Oh, honey. We’s had this out so many times. Can’t you get it out of your head?
Peola: No, I can’t! You wouldn’t understand that, would you? Oh, what is there for me anyway!? —Imitation of Life