Education is the one thing that should make us all equal in terms of future opportunities. But for that to happen, the type of schooling one receives should not be dependent on skin color or zip code.
In 2016, The Gilded Years: A Novel, by Karin Tanabe, hit bookshelves. In 1897, Anita Hemmings was a senior at Vassar College. She is popular, well liked, and on an academic track to do well post graduation. But Anita has a secret. She is African-American. Though she is light skinned enough to pass as Caucasian, there is the ever present danger of being outed for who she really is.
Her new roommate is Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the daughter of a wealthy and prominent New York family. The mask that Anita has been wearing for the last three years begins to crack as the girls become friends. Trouble, as it often does, comes in the form of romance and the opposite sex. Lottie starts crushing on Anita’s younger brother Frederick, who is as light skinned as his sister. In addition, Anita is spending her free time with a handsome and well to do white Harvard student.
With the end of the school year and her degree in sight, Anita’s secret is too close to be revealed. If it is, her entire future is possibly ruined before it has even started.
The narrative, based on a true story, is an interesting cross between School Ties (1992) and Imitation of Life (1959). It takes place in an era in which the idea of women being educated was only starting to become normalized. Add in race and you have a heady mix of social issues and the question of who is worthy of receiving an education. The book is like a powder keg, waiting to explode. It is only a question of when and what the damage will be.
Our mother are often our best friends, our worst enemies or sometimes a mixture of both. In their reflection, we see our best selves and our worst fears.
Fanny Hurst’s 1933 novel, Imitation Of Life mingles the idea of motherhood, friendship, identity and growing up.
There were two movie adaptations of this book. The first, adapted from the page to the screen a year after the book’s initial publishing, starred Claudette Colbert. The second film adaptation, premiered in 1959. Granted, the screenwriters changed several facets of the story from the novel and the first adaptation, but the heart and the emotions are still there. The 1959 adaptation also hits home because it came out at the start of the civil rights movement.
The 1959 film starts with two single mothers, one white, one black, meeting at the beach. Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a struggling actress. Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) needs a home for her and her daughter. In return for a home, Annie will be Lora’s housekeeper and take care of the children. Lora becomes a successful actress and is able to give her daughter, Susie (Sandra Dee) now a teenager a comfortable life. Annie stays with Lora, still keeping her position as housekeeper, but the relationship has evolved from employer/employee to becoming friends and confidants. Annie’s daughter, Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), also now a teenager is light skinned. She refuses to accept that she is black and runs from her mother.
One of the reasons that this movie hits home is because of the equality and friendship between Lora and Annie. The Civil Rights Act was made law 9 years after the 1959 movie and 25 years after the 1934 movie. Many African-American characters in movies at this time, with the exception of a rare few, were either in the background or in a subservient position. While it is true that Annie is Lora’s employee, Annie is very relevant to the story.
This movie will induce tears, especially the final scene. And it will make you want to call your mother.