imitation-of-life

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Fredi Washington by Carl Van Vechten on December 8, 1938.  

Fredericka Carolyn “Fredi” Washington (December 23, 1903 – June 28, 1994) was an African American actress, best known for her role as Peola in the 1934 version of the film Imitation of Life. Washington turned down a number of chances to pass for white as an actress, which might have led to greater acting opportunities. Her light competition and green eyes led directors to choose darker skinned actresses for the stereotypical “maid” roles. She wanted to perform in more complicated, versatile roles. Frustrated she quit acting and focused her efforts on civil rights.

Fredi Washington: “You see I’m a mighty proud gal and I can’t for the life of me, find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons, if I do I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.

I am an American citizen and by God, we all have inalienable rights and wherever those rights are tampered with, there is nothing left to do but fight…and I fight. How many people do you think there are in this country who do not have mixed blood, there’s very few if any, what makes us who we are, are our culture and experience. No matter how white I look, on the inside I feel black. There are many whites who are mixed blood, but still go by white, why such a big deal if I go as Negro, because people can’t believe that I am proud to be a Negro and not white. To prove I don’t buy white superiority I chose to be a Negro.” 

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The Douglas Sirk Color Melodrama
Sirk’s melodramas of the 1950s, while highly commercially successful, were generally very poorly received by reviewers. His films were considered unimportant because they revolve around female emotions and domestic issues, seen as banal at the time because of their focus on larger-than-life feelings, and unrealistic because of their conspicuous style. Attitudes toward Sirk’s films changed drastically in the 1960s and 1970s as his work was re-examined by French, American, and British critics. From around 1970 there was a considerable interest among academic film scholars for Sirk’s work - especially his American melodramas. Often centering on the formerly criticized style, his films were now seen as masterpieces of irony. The plots of the films were no longer taken at face value, and the analyses instead found that the films really criticized American society underneath the banal surface plot. The criticism of the 1970s and early 1980s was dominated by an ideological take on Sirk’s work, gradually changing from being Marxist-inspired in the early 1970s to being focused on gender and sexuality in the late 1970s and early 1980s.