Douglas Kirk's Imitation of Life

Topics: Narrative, Black people, White people Pages: 5 (1929 words) Published: February 22, 2012
In my piece of work I will analyse Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of life (1959) in terms of narrative and genre to show how the key terms of racism, femininity and celebrity are developed. First of all, genre is a classification of a text that creates an assumption of what the text is going to be about. It is simply another word for “type” or “kind”. Genre works by fulfilling the expectations of the audience. This means that genre films must have elements that are unexpected, predictable and formulaic. (Roberts and Wallis: 2001) Thus the audience find pleasure in the familiar what they can relate to, but they also wish to experience something that they have not done before whether it is unfamiliar emotions or peculiar situations. Imitation of life is a film of the melodrama genre which is mostly characterized by exaggerated emotions, interpersonal conflicts and stereotypical characters. In this film Lora Meredith and her daughter Susie are stereotypical white females connoting femininity. Both of them are blonde, always nicely dressed with neat hair styles. In addition, Lora Meredith is a celebrity and therefore an icon of femininity and good looks. She exemplifies the standards of beauty impossible for a black woman to achieve. She is appealing for men and she is always surrounded with loads of people in the film. On the other hand Lora has a more ‘manly’ role because she is occupied with her carrier and spends no time on household tasks which are typical for a woman. All of the household and raising children are left for Annie. From this point of view Annie appears as a feminine stereotype as well. Furthermore, Imitation of Life is filled with interpersonal conflicts the main one being between Annie and her daughter Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane is light skinned since “her father was practically white” (Annie; Imitation of Life). She estranges herself from Annie in order to pass as white and not have to suffer the discrimination. This behaviour thoroughly hurts Annie because her daughter that she raised and whom she loves wants nothing to do with her. Sarah Jane is exchanging her family and her heritage for a “better” life. “It is a sin to be ashamed of whom you are.” (Annie; Imitation of life) The racism portrayed in Imitation of life mostly seems unintentional, like it is a natural thing. It can be observed when Sarah Jane’s roommate assumes that Annie is the maid and when Lora confesses that she had no idea that Annie had so many friends. A peculiar moment happens towards the end of the film when Annie tells that she has always owned a mink coat while earlier in the film Lora was offered one as a loan so that she could appear in public with the upper circles. On the other hand, there are a few scenes with intended and ruthless racism when Sarah Jane gets beaten up by her boyfriend for having a black mother and when Annie has to sneak into the club to see Sarah Jane because black people are not suppose to be spending their time in clubs with whites.

This melodramatic genre is also illustrated by Lora’s failure in being a good mother. Since she is obsessed with her work and desire for stardom Lora leaves all the domestic responsibilities to Annie as well as raising Susie. This action is ironic because Lora claims to work for Susie’s wellbeing; however, she is distancing herself from her daughter. Consequently, this results in one more interpersonal conflict between Lora Meredith and her daughter because all that Susie wants is for her mother to be around more often. Lora’s absence leads Susie to fall in love with her mother’s boyfriend, Steve. Lora finds out about her own daughter’s obsession from Annie. “You’ve got a real problem with that girl” (Annie; Imitation of Life). It is quite a paradox that Annie knows more about Susie’s life that her own mother.

The amplified emotions in this melodrama are mainly expressed by Annie and Sarah Jane due to the racial identity issue. Sarah Jane’s desire to escape the racial...
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