NJ Film Fest

Call for Entries

Auditions

Participate Please

Corrections or additions?

This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the September 20,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Women, Race, and Film

It’s a sin to be ashamed of what you are. And it’s

even worse to pretend, to lie. Sarah Jane has to learn that the Lord

must’ve had his reasons for making some of us white and some of us

black. . . How do you explain to your child that she was born to be

hurt?"

These words are spoken to Lana Turner by Juanita Moore in the 1959

film, "Imitation of Life." The film was the second Hollywood

version of Fannie Hurst’s best-selling novel of the same title. Moore

plays an African-American mother, Annie Johnson, who is trying to

explain to her friend and benefactor Lora Meredith, played by Turner,

why she is so upset that her young daughter has attempted to pass

herself off at school as a white girl. Lora, despite being

sympathetic,

remains largely uncomprehending and is only able to utter weak

platitudes

such as, "children always pretend."

This inability to communicate between two friends separated by race,

culture, and opportunity is just one of the topics that will be

examined

in "Imitating Life: Women, Race, and Film, 1932-2000," a

conference

at Princeton University, Friday and Saturday, September and 23.

"Imitating

Life" will examine Hollywood’s portrayal of issues of race and

gender by focusing on the two film versions of the novel, written

by Fannie Hurst, that captured the imagination of readers — it

was serialized before appearing in book form — and of filmgoers.

Fannie Hurst was in fact Jewish; for some time African-American writer

Zora Neale Hurston worked for Hust and they became friends.

The conference begins on Friday, September 22, at 2 p.m., with

screenings

of the 1934 film by John Stahl and the 1959 version by Douglas Sirk

of "Imitation of Life" in the Stewart Film Theater at 185

Nassau. Actress Halle Berry, who starred with Warren Beatty in

"Bulworth"

and in "X-Men," gives the conference keynote address on Friday

at 8 p.m. in McCosh 50. Berry’s most recent project was an HBO

telefilm

about the life of Dorothy Dandridge. Dandridge was the first

African-American

woman to earn an Oscar nomination for best actress, but ended her

life by committing suicide at age 42. Berry will discuss her own

challenges

in producing the Dandridge story, and the parallels between the

Hollywood

of Dandridge’s time and the present day.

The conference continues Saturday, September 23, beginning at 9 a.m.,

in McCosh 50, with three panels of influential filmmakers, scholars,

and authors discussing issues of women, race, and Hollywood’s

depiction

of African-Americans.

Saturday’s first session will feature a discussion on friendships

across color lines, women’s entrepreneurship, and the continuing need

to "pass" in American society. Panelists will be Thadious

M. Davis from Vanderbilt University, Cheryl Wall from Rutgers

University,

and Ann Douglas from Columbia. The second session will attempt to

answer the question of whether "Imitation of Life" could be

updated to fit our own times. Film directors Charles Burnett and Julie

Dash, along with Jill Nelson, a Hunter College journalism professor,

will offer their views on whether or not this is possible, and if

so, how it could be achieved. The conference concludes with a panel

discussion on censorship and the cinematic portrayal of

African-Americans.

Panelists include Richard Dyer of the University of Warwick, Valerie

Smith from UCLA, and Thomas W. Cripps, Morgan State.

Hurst’s 1932 novel "Imitation of Life," as well

as its two film versions, may seem dated and melodramatic by the

standards

of today’s cool, contemporary culture. Yet the conference organizers

believe they can serve as valuable tools in examining changes in race

relations and advancements for women in American society over the

past 65 years. They also offer broad hints as to just how much more

ground there is to cover.

Stahls’s 1934 film adaptation closely follows Hurst’s original story

line in which an African-American woman and a white woman become

partners

in an extremely successful business venture based on the black woman’s

old family recipe for pancakes. Reminiscent of recent success stories

about the chocolate chip cookie businss, Hurst wrote of two

entrepreuneurial

women of vastly different life experiences. The 1934 Stahl movies

was the first serious treatment of the race question in a movie from

a major Hollywood studio and the first time a major motion picture

featured black actors in substantive roles. It also reflected the

film industry’s new censorship codes regarding the depiction of racial

mixing on screen.

By 1959, Hollywood no longer chose to represent a joint business

venture

across the races. Essentially a star vehicle for Lana Turner, Sirk’s

1959 version of "Imitation of Life" limits the black woman’s

role to that of a housekeeper and dresser to a white woman who pursues

an acting career and eventually becomes a star. The pivotal crisis

in all three versions, is the fact that the black woman’s unusually

light-skinned daughter enjoys the American privileges of whiteness

and eventually rejects her self-sacrificing, dark-skinned mother.

Noliwe Rooks, a Princeton historian and associate director of its

Program in African American Studies, is among the conference

organizers.

She says she hopes the conference will "allow people to explore

issues of race, and ethnicity, and work, along color lines. "We

are using the films to see how these issues have changed between the

’30s to the ’50s, and then up until now. These are important issues

that transfer to Latinos and Asians and the society at large." The

conference is free, but preregistration is recommended.

— Jack Florek

Imitating Life: Women, Race and Film, Princeton

University,

Program in African-American Studies , 185 Nassau Street & McCosh

50, 609-258-4270. Two-day conference begins with screenings of two

versions of "Imitation of Life" at the film theater, 185

Nassau.

At 8 p.m., actress Halle Berry gives the conference keynote address

in McCosh 50. On Saturday, September 23, panels and discussion begins

at 9 a.m. in McCosh 50. Free, but space is limited. Register on the

web at www.princeton.edu/~aasprog/imitatinglife.html.

Saturday’s program features three panels of distinguished filmmakers

and authors. Panelists include Columbia University Professor Ann

Douglas

(author of "Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s"

and "The Feminization of American Culture"), Harlem

Renaissance

experts Thadious M. Davis and Cheryl Wall, producer and director

Charles

Burnett ("To Sleep With Anger," "Killer of Sheep,"

"The Wedding") and filmmaker Julie Dash ("Daughters of

the Dust," "Illusions").

The final panel will feature Professor Richard Dyer of the University

of Warwick and UCLA Professor Valerie Smith, with comment by film

scholar Thomas Cripps ("Making Movies Black"). Together, they

will examine the screen portrayal of African-Americans and issues

of race and sex, as well as how legal and professional mores governing

the entertainment industry come into play. Friday and Saturday,

September 22 and 23.

Top Of Page
NJ Film Fest

New Jersey Film Festival screenings are 7 p.m. Fridays

through Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, College Avenue Campus, New

Brunswick; Thursday screenings are in Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass

College Campus. $5; 732-932-8482; Website:

www.rci.rutgers.edu/~nigrin.

Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard’s brilliant futuristic film

noir about the omnipotent computer Alpha-60. Created in 1965, it

features

Eddie Constantine and Anna Karina, Thursday, September 21.

East-West ,

Regis Wargnier’s 1999 epic about political terror, set in Stalin’s

Soviet Union of 1946, Friday to Sunday, September 22 to 24. Eyes

Without A Face, an eerie, 1959 Cocteau-influenced fantasy by

Georges

Franju about a surgeon who seeks a new face for his disfigured

daughter,

Thursday, September 28.

Benjamin Smoke. Visiting directors Jem Cohen and Peter

Sillen screen their documentary that focuses on Benjamin, a lead

singer

for a punk-blues band who performs in a blue party dress, Friday,

September 29. Two additional screenings Saturday and Sunday, September

30 and October 1. Screen Tests , Andy Warhol’s classic three-minute

film portraits of the Beautiful People of the mid-1960s, shot at his

Factory, Thursday, October 5.

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Call for Entries

Starbucks Coffee Company will award $1,000 to an area

artist for the winning mural design in its "Princeton — Rich

in Traditions." Princeton’s Starbucks, at 100 Nassau Street, has

space for a permanent, 10 by 20-foot mural. Entries must be received

at the Starbucks Regional office by September 30, and designs will

be judged on originality, taste, and visual appeal. Rules and entry

forms are available at Princeton Starbucks and the Arts Council of

Princeton.

The College of New Jersey seeks entries for the National

Printmaking 2001 exhibition, on view at the college from January 17

to February 14. Original works of art, created in the past three

years,

in any medium are eligible. The contest will be juried from slides

by Diana Gonzalez Gandolfi, painter, printmaker, and teacher. Deadline

for entries is November 3; two slides may be submitted. Entry fee

is $20 entry fee. For guidelines and entry form, call Judy Masterson

at 609-771-2633.

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Auditions

New Jersey Nets Junior Dance Team is auditioning young

male and female dancers, between the ages of 8 and 12, for

performances

in East Rutherford at the Continental Airlines Arena. Candidates

should

be fit, have strong technique with funk/hip-hop style, and outstanding

performance skills. They must be available for Sunday afternoon

rehearsals

and performances; there is no financial compensation. Bring a head

shot and resume to the audition, Sunday, September 24, at the Nets

Champion Center, 390 Murray Hill Parkway, East Rutherford. Sign-in

begins at 11 a.m. and auditions at noon. Call Natasha Baron at

201-935-8888.

Top Of Page
Participate Please

Lawrence Community Orchestra, designed for musicians of

all levels who enjoy sight-reading, meets at Lawrence Senior Center,

30 East Darrah Lane, on the first and third Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.

The sessions are informal with no performances scheduled. Robert

Emmett

Mueller is the organizer, music director, and principal conductor.

Call Mueller at 609-448-2605.

The New School for Music Study in Kingston is enrolling

students in its group piano program for beginning piano instruction.

Classes are Wednesdays and Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m., and Saturday

from 10 to 11 a.m. Call 609-921-2900.

SERV Centers New Jersey, in cooperation with Porsche of

Princeton, is raffling a 2001 Boxster with a retail value of $47,000.

Tickets are $100; only 999 will be sold. Proceeds benefit those

working

to recover from and coping with mental illness. The drawing is

November

3 at the Hyatt. Call Kathy Applestein at 609-406-0100, ext. 107.

The Printmaking Council of New Jersey, North Branch

Station,

offers photography classes and workshops in fundamentals, aerial

photography,

photographic printing, and the pinhole camera. Costs range from $45

to $105, plus materials. Call Sarah Muccifori, 908-725-2110.


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