Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Fredi Washington: Didn't Live an Imitation of Life

Fredi Washington
Mother's Day is this Sunday and just I happened to think about a heartbreaking movie involving a mother. If you have ever seen Imitation of Life, you'll understand what I'm talking about, since it revolves around the theme of passing.

Most white people who have ever heard of the term "passing," and know what it means, and have most likely seen that film. 

Several years ago, my husband, who's white, watched the 1959 version with me.  He was fascinated by the subject matter and impressed that Imitation of Life had been made back in the 1950s.

I told him that this was the second version, and that the original had been produced in 1934.  In that movie, I informed him, a "real black girl" played the part of Peola, the light skinned daughter desperate to pass as white who rejects her black mother. (In the 1959 movie, the daughter's name is Sarah Jane and she's played by white actress Susan Kohner). If you're not familiar with Imitation of Life, based on the 1933 Fannie Hurst novel of the same name, click here.

The real black girl mentioned above was Fredi Washington, an accomplished African American dramatic actress during the 1920s and '30s.  Fair skinned with green eyes, she was often asked to "pass for white" in order to receive better opportunities in films.  However, Fredi refused.  "I'm honest," she said, "and you don't have to be white to be good."

She faced discrimination from whites and, because of her appearance, resentment within the black community, which had complex feelings about obvious mixed-race people. Washington expressed her opinions about race and color prejudice, and after retiring from acting in the 1930's, became an activist and journalist.

In 1937, Ms.Washington was a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America (NAG), which created better professional opportunities for blacks in show business. She also worked as Entertainment Editor of People's Voice, founded in 1942.

Never ashamed of who she was, Fredi Washington was no Peola! 

Have you seen either version of Imitation of Life? If you'd like to see the 1934 version , click here.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

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