The story being told in Fannie Hurst’s novel is painfully relevant nowadays, no matter how hard this advanced world tries to cover it up. But to find satisfaction in an already important subject matter was not enough for Hurst, as she improves the story to a more unbearable level; finally, a struggling mother finds her true love, but, her all grown up daughter does the same when she falls for the exact same man.
Imitation of Life follows Beatrice, a struggling yet courageous and fearless mother who tries to make her ends meet for her two-year-old daughter, Jessie. But soon everything changes for her, when help comes in the form of a black woman, Delilah, who agrees to work as Beatrice’s housekeeper in exchange for a room for herself and her light-skinned daughter, Peola. Shortly after, when Bea finds out about Delilah’s astonishingly delicious pancake recipe, she comes up with a brilliant idea to market it. Wealth and recognition come to them so quickly, that they had no chance to realize. But the only thing that does not change is the color of Delilah’s skin which makes her daughter, Peola, ashamed of her.
As the time passes by, months turns into years and the relationship between Bea and Delilah deepens, while Jessie and Peola grow up becoming well and fine ladies. However, Peola, seeing the privileged life that “white” people have, tries to pass for white, while hiding from the rest of the world that her mother is a black woman. This certainly hurts Delilah much, however, finds it hard to understand as she tries to reconnect with her already lost daughter. In the meantime, Bea finally finds the man of her life, Stephen (Warren Williams), and agrees to marry him, but decides to keep it a secret from her daughter, until Jessie gets a chance to learn to accept him.
This perhaps is one of the challenging scenes for the viewer to watch how Stephen tries to earn Jessie’s affection as her future step-father, while Jessie takes his actions a bit seriously, starting falling in love with him quicker than she could have ever imagined. When Beatrice finds out about her daughter’s feelings, she realizes that this can tear apart the family, and her relationship with her daughter is what she can’t live without.
John M. Stahl’s Imitation of Life is a film ahead of its time. It’s like a human being who becomes wiser as he gets old. This film becomes more and more intelligent and brilliant after each time when you get back to watch it. Claudette Colbert as Beatrice and Louise Beavers as Delilah are a delightful duo that you can’t resist but admire. It’s a brave and touching story. It’s about love and motherhood. It’s about giving up and sacrifices not everyone can even think of. It’s about the life we imitate to have. It’s also the imitation of life most of us will never have. Whatever it is, this film never fails to deliver one thing: racism has always been felt deeply, but never as deeply as today, which is so heart-breaking.