The [passing] genre overlooks questions of colourism, treats racial identity as rigid and fixed, and the complexities of the mixed-race experience are ignored.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2018-08-22 04:01Z by Steven

The [passing] genre overlooks questions of colourism, treats racial identity as rigid and fixed, and the complexities of the mixed-race experience are ignored. And then there is the issue of optics. It is tricky for the passing character to move from page to screen. [John M.] Stahl’s selection of [Fredi] Washington for the role of Peola [in Imitation of Life (1934)] was hugely progressive for the 1930s. Not only did he give an actor who identified as black a significant role, but the film’s monochrome palette meant that Washington really looked white, which petrified southern segregationists.

Janine Bradbury, “‘Passing for white’: how a taboo film genre is being revived to expose racial privilege,” The Guardian, August 20, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/aug/20/passing-film-rebecca-hall-black-white-us-rac.

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The black celebrity from Hollywood’s Golden Age who revealed the complexities of passing for white

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-01-04 04:21Z by Steven

The black celebrity from Hollywood’s Golden Age who revealed the complexities of passing for white

Timeline
2018-01-02

Nina Renata Aron, Senior Editor


Fredi Washington in a dressing room in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, circa 1940. (Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris/Carnegie Museum of Art/Getty Images)

Fredi Washington negotiated bigotry and made her way in the movies

When African American actress Fredi Washington played a black girl passing for white in the 1934 film Imitation of Life, she was accused by critics of denying her own heritage. In fact, Washington never hid her roots, and went on to become an activist for African Americans in the performing arts. As she later told Hue magazine, “I’m honest and…you don’t have to be white to be good.”

The young, black starlet posed a challenge for a Hollywood used to seeing in black and white. Washington was so light-skinned that she reportedly had to wear makeup to play black characters. According to Washington’s friend Jean-Claude Baker, a restaurateur and author, many who saw her thought she was white and she was able to frequent whites-only establishments all her life without problems. “She did pass for white when she was traveling in the South with Duke Ellington,” Baker is quoted as saying in Washington’s New York Times 1994 obituary. “They could not go into ice-cream parlors, so she would go in and buy the ice cream, then go outside and give it to Ellington and the band. Whites screamed at her, ‘Nigger lover!’”…

Read the entire article here.

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Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Imitation Of Life”

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-03 18:57Z by Steven

Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Imitation Of Life”

Madame Noire
2014-07-21

Veronica Wells, Associate Editor

Everybody knows Imitation of Life. It’s the movie plenty of Black families reference when they speak about the original tearjerkers. When you think about it, it’s amazing that a movie that handled subjects such as race and class in such a real way was released during the beginning of the Civil Rights era. And surprisingly the version most of us know and love, the one with Mahalia Jackson, is a remake of a remake. Check out some of the little known facts behind the making of this classic film…

…Fredi Washington

Fredi Washington was the young actress who played a nineteen-year-old Peola Johnson (Sarah Jane Johnson in the ’59 version.) They approached her to play the older version of Sarah Jane in the 1959 remake but she declined because she didn’t want to only be known as the black actress who was always passing for white.

Washington, whose parents were both biracial, had very fair skin and green eyes but she was adamant about the fact that she identified as black. She told the Chicago Defender,

“You see I’m a mighty proud gal and I can’t for the life of me, find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons, if I do I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.”

Washington eventually left acting because she was only offered roles where she had to play the tragic mulatto. And while she was fair and maybe appeared White to others, she was not allowed to star alongside White male leads because she was so vocal about her African heritage.

Sarah Jane

Although many African American actresses were tested, eventually, the role of Sarah Jane went to Susan Kohner, who was of Mexican and Czech-Jewish descent…

Read the entire article here.

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Obituaries: Fredi Washington, 90, Actress; Broke Ground for Black Artists

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2012-02-25 03:28Z by Steven

Obituaries: Fredi Washington, 90, Actress; Broke Ground for Black Artists

The New York Times
1994-06-30

Sheila Rule

Fredi Washington, one of the first black actresses to gain recognition for her work on stage and in film, died on Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Stamford, Conn., where she lived. She was 90.

The cause was pneumonia, which developed after a stroke, said her sister, Isabel Powell.

Miss Washington’s best-known performance was as the young mulatto who passes for white in the 1934 film “Imitation of Life.” Her performance was so convincing that she was accused of denying her heritage in her private life.

“She did pass for white when she was traveling in the South with Duke Ellington and his band,” said Jean-Claude Baker, a restaurateur and author and a friend of Ms. Washington’s. “They could not go into ice-cream parlors, so she would go in and buy the ice cream, then go outside and give it to Ellington and the band. Whites screamed at her, ‘Nigger lover!’ “…

Read the entire obituary here.

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Looking White, Acting Black: Cast(e)ing Fredi Washington

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2012-02-25 03:10Z by Steven

Looking White, Acting Black: Cast(e)ing Fredi Washington

Theatre Survey
Volume 45, Issue 1 (2004)
pages 19-40
DOI: 10.1017/S0040557404000031

Cheryl Black, Associate Professor of Acting, Theatre History/Theory/Criticism
University of Missouri, Columbia

In October 1926 a leading African-American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, featured adjacent photographs of two young women with a provocative caption: “White Actresses Who Open with Robeson and Bledsoe on Broadway during Week.” The actresses featured were Lottice Howell, starring with Jules Bledsoe in the musical play Deep River, and Edith Warren, starring with Paul Robeson in the drama Black Boy. In reporting this latest bit of integrated casting, however, the Courier was wrong on two counts. First, they misidentified the photographs, identifying Howell as Warren and Warren as Howell; and second, they misidentified Warren, whose real name was Fredi Washington, as “white.” Washington (who dropped the stage name during previews) was, by self-identification, Negro, or, in the language of the Savannah official who recorded her birth in 1903, “colored.”

Purchase the article here.

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