Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life (1934)  Director: John M. Stahl

The novel of the same name was written by Fannie Hurst and inspired by her road trip to Canada with her friend and fellow writer, Zora Neal Hurston. It is an important film in the history of cinema, particularly pertaining to the issue of race in America. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It stars Claudette Colbert.

The film tells the story of a white widow, Bea Pullman, and her daughter Jessie (who appears as if she is white), and the black housekeeper, Delilah, and her mixed race daughter Peola, who appears as if she is white. Together, they become like family, and Bea and Jessie particularly enjoy Delilah’s sweet pancakes. She opens a pancake restaurant in New Jersey that is a big hit. Meanwhile, Peola does her best to conceal the fact that she is black. She is embarrassed by her mother. Bea creates a company that markets the face of Delilah as a kind of Aunt Jemimah character. In the end, Delilah dies a sad woman, but Peola returns for her grant funeral to beg for forgiveness from her dying mother and decides to embrace her African ancestry. Bea and Jessie also reunite.



Imitation of Life is a good film worth viewing, though a powerfully sad film. I had first seen the film in a class in college, mainly for the exposition of racism, as is common. Still the film comes recommended to lovers of classic cinema.

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