Hi, my name is Joey of Brego.com. And today I will be reviewing the 1934 film Imitation of LIfe directed by John M Stahl , Claude Colbert, Louise Beavers and Freddie Washington. It is based on a novel by Franny Hurst of the same name. First, I should give a historical context as to what the United States was like when this film was written.
Remember, this film was written wake of the Jim Crow South. During the Great Migration and the Great Depression, only seven years earlier, did the KKK, March en mass on Washington, D.C.. At that time lynchings were occurring in the South, probably throughout the whole United States, in that very year in 1934, Hitler had seized power in Germany.
Fanny got her inspiration to write imitation of life from a train trip. She took through Canada with her friend. a fellow writer, Zora Neal Hurston was a Black writer and cultural anthropologist. Fannie Hearst was a successful writer in the 1930s, and two of her favorite topics were female economic empowerment and racial identity.
And in imitation of life, she touched on both of those topics. You have two women who are both widows and they’re both with daughters. the only difference is, is that one is a Black woman who is homeless. And the, the other is a White woman who has a home and who has White privilege. And. They get together and they form this friendship.
The reason I selected this film for review is because I, I believe a lot of the analysis of this film is very superficial. People get upset because Louise Beavers was a flat character, caricature. Yes, it was. Yes, she was, she was the “mammy” caricature, but not because she wanted to be, but because society foisted that role upon her and she had to take that role upon her to feed her child in order to survive in that world.
But it wasn’t by choice. It was by necessity and the power of her character. Was that she took that role years and she turned it into a full role. It was a flat character that she took and she molded it into the star of this film. And, and she took it from a closed film to an open film, to, from a, a closed frame film to an open frame.
from a character that had no respect to a character that deserved full respect and equality. And it was one scene in the film that transformed her character and tra gave her equality and respect. And that was when she said to her daughter, her daughter said, if you see me on the street, pass me, like, you don’t know me because I’ll be passing as a White woman. She and the, and the mother said to her, don’t ask me to do that because I am not a white mother. I cannot give you up. And in saying that, she said, my love for you is superior to the mother…the love a white mother has for her daughter. That line was, was a bombshell and. endangered her at the time.
And John Stahl, the director could have cut that line. The writer could have cut that line. The screenplay writer could have cut that line. Claudette Cobert could have said that endangered my career, cut that line. The studio could have said cut that line. The distributor could have said cut that line.
But they said, no, let’s keep that. because it, got rid of the artifice of the racial construct and they kept that line and it made Louise Beaver’s character around and full and full of life inequality. And it got rid of the bullshit. artifice of race in all of that, and it made her equal. And so if you judge the pancakes and the, and the Aunt Jamima and Mamminess of all of this, and you, judge this great film based on that and don’t stay around for that line, then, you know, you, you, you missed the whole point of the film.
I understand, Baby/. We’re going to forget all about it now. It’s all right.
But it isn’t. All right, mother, I want to talk to you.
I’ll go upstairs. Delal no Miss B you stay, please. I want you to hear too.
What’s my little baby got on her mind.
I wanna go away.
Go away, go where Peola?.
I mean, by that, I mean, I wanna go away and you mustn’t see me own me or claim me or anything. I mean, even if you pass me on the street, you’ll have to pass me by,
Oh, no Peola!.
Oh, I know it’s terrible. And me Miss B., But you don’t know what it is to look White and be Black. You don’t know… I can’t go on this way any longer.
I can’t give up a baby. I bore ya.. You, I nursed ya, I love you. I love you more than you can guess. You can’t ask your mammy to do this. You got to promise me, mother
I’m your mammy child. I ain’t no white mother!. It’s too much to ask of me!. I ain’t got the spiritual strength to meet it. I can’t hang on. No cross, I ain’t got the strength! You can’t ask me to unborn my own child.
I’m sorry, Mother. I know it’s asking a lot. I’ve got in my own life.
How can you hurt your mother’s so? How can you make her suffer this way?
I’m sorry, Ms. B, but I can’t help it.
(at that time) people were losing their careers by saying, I am this, I am that.
And. That’s why this film is a classic and you should watch it with an open mind, not a judgmental mind. So that’s why I’m reviewing Imitation of Life.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. She’ll come back to you. Give hera little time, few hard knocks and she’ll come running back to her mother. That’s what the mothers are for.
If you judge this film based on Peola’s decision to pass for White, then you miss the point of self-determination. This child who was mistaken for White, was rejected for being white and rejected for being black and who appeared white and who decided to become white.
That was her decision. It wasn’t anyone else’s, it wasn’t society’s decision. It was her decision and she made it and she paid the price for making it by losing her mother. So that’s why this film is important and it was about female economic empowerment at a time where it didn’t exist. And it was about racial empowerment at a time where it didn’t exist.
So Imitation of LIfe will go down as one of the greatest film in classic film history. And you have to remember Hitler was in power. They were lynching Blacks in the South , the Klan was marching on Washington. That’s the time in which this film was made. And It’s a, it’s a great film. It’s a simple film. The fashions, the production quality are second to none. And I think that was a deliberate choice to, to show that we are all equal, whatever we decide to do with our lives.
You know, we’re all equals.
Now remember, there are 2 versions of this film. The original 1934 version is the best version in my opinion.