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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

R.I.P., Juanita Moore

At age 99, groundbreaking African-American actress Juanita Moore passed away on New Year's Day 2014. Ms Moore is perhaps best remembered for her role in the 1959, Douglas Sirk-directed version of Imitation of Life, for which she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.

She was born in L.A. and started as a dancer at the famed Cotton Club. She had her first film role in 1949's Pinky, with Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters. The film is a drama of racial inequality in the USA at the time and on the concept of "passing" for white to avoid discrimination and segregation.

The subplot of Imitation of Life revisits this theme. Susan Kohner, as Juanita Moore's character's light-skinned daughter, denies and turns her back on her own mother in her attempt to "pass." Moore's scenes with Kohner are truly heartbreaking and the climactic scene in this film always has me bawling my eyes out, just like at the end of West Side Story, during each and every viewing, no matter how many times I watch it.

The film struck a nerve, not only with its targeted female audience but with non-white audiences and the yet unclassified LGBT community who understood discrimination and the concept of "passing" all too well at that time.

Juanita Moore and Ms Kohner remained life-long friends as a result of acting in this film together opposite Lana Turner, John Gavin and Sandra Dee.

Juanita Moore's career spanned film, television and stage.  She died of natural causes at her L.A. home.

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