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Aspiring actress Lora Meredith meets Annie Johnson a homeless black woman at Coney Island and soon they share a tiny apartment. Each woman has an intolerable daughter, though Annie's little girl Sarah Jane, is by far the worse. Neurotic and obnoxious, Sarah Jane doesn't like being black; since she's light-skinned (her father was practically white), she spends the rest of the film passing as white, much to her mother's heartache and shame. Lora, meanwhile, virtually ignores her own daughter in a single-minded quest for stardom. Written by
In Coney Island, the widow aspiring actress Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) finds her six-year-old daughter Susie playing with eight-year-old Sarah Jane, who is the daughter of the black homeless housekeeping Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore). Lora brings Annie and her daughter to live in her small apartment in New York and they become close friends.
Lora has a love affair with the photographer Steve Archer (John Gavin) and sooner he proposes her. But the ambitious Lora dreams on becoming a star in Broadway and prioritizes her career and also neglects Susie (Sandra Dee). The light-skinned Sarah Jones (Susan Kohner) rejects her mother and tries to pass as white for her friends.
Lora is well-succeeded in her career and reaches stardom. Ten years later, she meets Steve by chance and he gives attention to Susie while Lora is shooting a film in Italy. When she returns, she decides to get married with Steve; but Susie has fallen in love with Steve. Meanwhile Sarah Jane run away home to work in fleshpots.
"Imitation of Life" is Douglas Sirk's last melodrama with an engaging and emotional story with romance, ambition, friendship, love and rejection. The drama of Annie that is rejected by her daughter, in a time when color of people was a watershed, is heartbreaking and the best subplot. I do not recall any other film from this period that brings the division in the American society between black and white people so clearly. Susan Kohner has an impressive performance in the role of an outcast girl that does not accept the way the society treats black people but prefers to deny her color. The sequence in the alley where she is beaten up by her boyfriend reflects the mentality of the American society in those years. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Imitação da Vida" ("Imitation of Life")
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