John M. Stahl directs the original and best film version of "Imitation of Life". This version is often overlooked given the Lana Turner Technicolor remake. The latter version, released in 1958 at the outset of the civil rights movement hit all the right notes with a receptive audience.
The 1934 black and white version is more subtle, but more powerful in its punch. Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers, both widowed single moms come across each other and form an enduring bond. This friendship becomes a professional one as they are convinced to box up Louise Beavers' pancake formula. That sounds stereotypical, but the stereotyped public image of her character is trumped by her projecting a complex character in simple terms.
Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers form a genuine friendship. The movie however turns on Fredi Washington, who is light skinned enough to pass as white. Passing as white, she enjoys a world free from prejudice and ultimately rejects her mother, whose only wish is for her daughter's happiness, intent on leaving all her worldly success in business to her daughter.
The dramatic conclusion rests upon the heartbreak of her daughter's rejection. Only in witnessing the outpouring of strangers at her mother's passing does her daughter openly emote her true love.
This film was made at a time predating issues like race being addressed head on, but delicately relates the prevailing sentiment. This movie may seem dated to some, but it is quite profound and moving. It is indeed tragic that two fine actresses like Fredi Washington and Louise Beavers never found more work worthy of their acting skills.
PS: I could not find a poster for this movie online with either Louise Beavers or Fredi Washington credited. How about that?