If I say the name Juanita Moore, it probably wouldn't mean much to most people, except perhaps diehard movie buffs. And even then, just a handful of them. I'm hoping after reading this, many more people will have a deep appreciation for this wonderfully talented woman who died New Year's day in her Los Angeles home at the age of 99.
I was initially exposed to Moore when I was a child and I saw the movie "Imitation of Life" for the first time. Not the original film. The 1959 remake, starring the legendary Lana Turner. Even at a young age, I cried my eyes out throughout just about the entire film. It's a first class tear-jerker. If you've never seen it, it's well worth watching. But keep the Kleenex handy.
In it, Moore portrays Turner's black maid who is essentially abandoned by her very light-skinned daughter who renounces her black roots and passes for white. Although a fairly rare occurrence, it was certainly not unheard of for people to "pass", especially in the Jim Crow South well before the Civil Rights Movement and federal civil rights legislation changed things.
Moore's performance was so powerful that, in 1960, she became only the third African American to be nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar. Here's the thing. Ironically, Moore had worked a lot more before she got the nomination than afterward. Usually, it works the other way around in Hollywood. But, unfortunately, her nomination worked against her. Apparently, after her nomination, casting directors assumed she would no longer be content taking roles as a servant. She said she wouldn't be offered a lot of work that directors were certain she would not have accepted. But she would have, had they only bothered to ask. At a time when Moore should have been more prolific than ever, because of the acknowledgement of her considerable talent by her peers during a period of history when few other blacks had been so honored, she was virtually ignored.
Of course, that was then and this is now. While there is still room for a lot of improvement, Hollywood has changed quite a bit in the 54 years since Moore was nominated. Still, I think it is important to pay homage to a woman who suffered numerous indignities while trying to ply her trade but always managed to retain her own dignity and integrity. That alone is worthy of honor.
Tony McEwing co-anchors FOX 11 Morning News at 4:30 am and provides news updates for the Emmy award winning Good Day LA, broadcast weekdays from 7:00 - 10:00 am. He also co-anchors the FOX 11 10 am News and the FOX 11 News at Noon.
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