Douglas Sirk’s final Hollywood film—and perhaps his crowning achievement—is one of the all-time great weepies and a damning critique of racial and class division in America. It’s the dual story of Lora Meredith (Lana Turner), an aspiring actress, and Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), the African-American single mother she hires as her live-in maid. As Lora’s career ascends, Annie is pushed aside by her light-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner), who chooses to pass as white. Throughout, Sirk brilliantly manipulates the story’s artifice, emphasizing the obliviousness of the white characters to their privilege and imbuing the Annie–Sarah Jane relationship with a wrenching pathos. It all crescendos with a soul-shaking musical performance from Mahalia Jackson and the gale-force emotional annihilation of Sirk’s most devastating climax.
Life of Imitation
Ming Wong, Singapore, 2009, 5m
Performance and multimedia artist Ming Wong intricately restages a key scene from Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, featuring three male actors from Singapore’s main ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay, and Indian) who take turns playing the black mother and her light-skinned daughter.