This Day in Film: "Imitation of Life"

This Day in Film: "Imitation of Life"

The legendary film on racial identity opened 52 years ago this week.

Published April 29, 2011

Fifty-two years ago this week, Imitation of Life, the legendary film about racial identity, was released in theatres. The movie was adapted from Fannie Hurst's novel and a remake of the 1934 original.


Imitation of Life told the story of Sarah Jane, a light-skinned Black girl (both of her parents were Black) who could pass for white, and was played by Susan Kohner. She dealt with extreme emotional turmoil, eventually rejecting her mother, played by Juanita Moore. The flick also starred Hollywood legends Lana Turner and Sandra Dee.


In the 1934 original, Sarah Jane was played by a light-skinned Black actress named Fredi Washington. In 1959, the Sarah Jane character was Susan Kohner, who was Mexican and Jewish. Both actresses in the 1959 version, Kohner and Moore, received Oscar nods for best supporting actress and Kohner won the Golden Globe.


Imitation of Life was a huge success for its time, earning $6.4 million and became the ninth most successful film of 1959.  The film's handling of race and the "tragic mulatto" character is a slice of history for its era.


There has been talks for years about an Imitation of Life remake, but no word on who or when.  In 2009, a behind-the-scenes book was released on the movie, Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of Life by Sam Staggs.


Hats off to a classic!


Written by Clay Cane


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