We mourn the loss of actress Juanita Moore, who died today at age 99. She was one of the first African-Americans to be nominated for an Oscar, and is still best remembered for that role, in “Imitation of Life.” The movie is the story of two single mothers who join forces, one becoming an actress, the other, played by Moore, taking care of the home and the two daughters. Her character’s daughter grows up resentful of the white girl and decides to pass as white. Moore’s performance is one of great humanity and dignity. Her anguish when her daughter rejects her is grounded in a deep empathy and resilience. There’s a reason that the funeral scene for her character is one of the most unforgettable ever put on film.
Moore began as a chorus girl in the Cotton Club, then took small parts in movies. The bigotry of her era kept her mostly confined to stereotypical roles through the 1960’s, but later she appeared in films like “The Kid” and on television. She also starred in a London production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” which she said was her favorite performance. Her grandson, actor Kirk Kelly-Kahn, says she was running lines with him until just before her death. May her memory be a blessing.