Imitation of Life
Edition no. 1167
Melodrama master John M. Stahl brings his exquisite restraint and almost spiritually pure visual style to this devastating, enduringly relevant story of mothers and daughters. Imitation of Life explores the friendship between two struggling single mothers: one (Claudette Colbert) a working-class white woman who ascends to the top of the business world, the other (Louise Beavers) her Black housekeeper, whose life is shattered by the rejection of her rebellious, white-passing daughter (Fredi Washington). It is this latter relationship—attuned to America’s bitter racial realities and heartbreakingly enacted by trailblazing Black performers Beavers and Washington—that lends the film its transcendent emotional power. This first adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s best-selling novel boldly confronts the complexities and contradictions of racial identity, economic exploitation, and the limits of the American dream.
- New interview with Miriam J. Petty, author of Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood, about the resonance of Louise Beavers’s and Fredi Washington’s performances
- New interview with Imogen Sara Smith, contributor to The Call of the Heart: John M. Stahl and Hollywood Melodrama, about director John M. Stahl and his work with actor Claudette Colbert and others
- An essay by Miriam J. Petty