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Melanin Melodrama

More than eighty-five years ago, The Black Girl Passes, written by G. Stewart, stated that, “dark skinned females are regulated to the rear economically and shunned socially” (Steward, 103). It would seem that the social economic categorization from high to low are: white men, white women, Black men, and lastly Black women. But according to the research provided, there is a more meticulous breakdown that show it is actually: white men, white women, light skinned Black men, dark Black men, light skinned Black women, and lastly dark skinned Black women.

This social and economic hierarchy has been portrayed through various films as early as the 1934 film The Imitation of Life. This film portrays and overweight Black woman (Annie) as the stereotypical “mammy”, that takes care of her white employer’s children as well as her own mixed race daughter (Sarah Jane), who can be said to represent the “tragic mullato” in the film. The ‘tragic mullato” is a person that is of mixed race, usually a person who is African American and European, who is oft times sad or the victim of isolation, due to the fact that they fail to completely fit into a category of Black or white within society. Within the film, the mixed race daughter going into adulthood, is given preferential treatment because of how fair her skin is and how straight she can manipulate her hair. The entire film, this character pushes the boundaries of just how far she is willing to go with her appearance, so that she can “pass” as a white woman. Eventually, she is found out and her white boyfriend and his friends assault her. Later in the film the mixed race daughter distances herself from her mother so that no one will know that she is part Black.

At one point in the film, the Black mother visits the daughter after not seeing her for years. The daughter tells all her white coworkers something along the lines of, “this woman is my maid, I must have forgotten something and she has come to give it to me”. Later in the film the Black mother dies and is given a grand funeral and procession by her white employers that stated she was “just like family”. Of course the mixed daughter is all tears and yelling how sorry she is, but it’s too little and too late. This film, although it was not directed by a Black person, shows the social injustices forced upon Black society and the lengths that they are willing to go in order to be accepted into white society.

Imitation of Life (1959) Universal Pictures

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