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African-American Film Festival to feature groundbreaking films

Wednesday, Feb. 13 | By Alisa Booze Troetschel
A film festival Friday in The Plains will provide a retrospective of ground-breaking films of the African-American experience.

The Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County will show five movies from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s in recognition of Black History Month in February.

"I've been wanting to do this for a long time," said Dr. Lewis Brown, who with his wife, Dr. Shamira Brown, is donating more than 300 films to the AAHA.

And, they're giving the association more than 65 78 rpm records of jazz, R&B, gospel, pop and swing.

The movies that will be presented are the 1934 and 1959 versions of "Imitation of Life," "God's Step Children," "Pinky," and "Intruder in the Dust."
In 2007 Time magazine named "Imitation of Life" one of "The 25 Most Important Films On Race."

In the 1934 version, a financially struggling white widow and her toddler daughter take in an African-American housekeeper and her daughter.
The families become close. Eventually the white widow becomes wealthy as the owner of a successful pancake flour business.

The daughters grow up. As she is light-complexioned, the African-American daughter presents herself as white, which grieves her mother.
The white daughter falls in love with her mother's boyfriend.

The mothers and daughters have difficult situations to resolve. Although they accomplish this in quite different ways, both solutions involve endings.

In 1981, Lewis Brown met one of the stars, Fredi Washington, in Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. Washington is Shamira Brown's third cousin, he said. Washington had left the movie industry in the 1970s.

Lana Turner and Sandra Dee star in the 1959 remake of "Imitation of Life," and Mahalia Jackson appears as a church choir singer.

The plot is similar to the earlier version, except that the heroine is an aspiring actress who makes it big rather than operating a pancake flour business.

In the 1938 "God's Step Children," a light-skinned African-American girl struggles with identifying as white throughout childhood into adulthood. She falls in love with her white adoptive brother, who encourages a relationship with an African-American man she finds revolting.

Ethel Barrymore and Jeanne Crain star in "Pinky," which, according to Lewis Brown, was filmed in Fauquier County.

In the 1949 release, a light-skinned young African-American woman nicknamed Pinky goes from her Southern home to study nursing in the North. She falls in love with a white doctor, who is unaware of her ancestry.

She returns to see her grandmother, who asks her to care for an old and ailing white friend. After the woman dies and leaves Pinky her estate, the doctor finds her and asks her to move North with him. Pinky must decide where her destiny lies.

"Intruder in the Dust" is based on a 1948 novel by William Faulkner. Set and filmed in Mississippi, an African-American man is charged with murder. A white boy whom the African-American man saved from harm found evidence of his innocence.

The boy convinces his attorney uncle to represent the accused, whom his white neighbors want to lynch.
The movie was released in 1950.

"The films will allow a great opportunity for conversation," said Karen Hughes White, president of the AAHA.

The 1934 and 1959 versions of "Imitation of Life" last 111 and 125 minutes respectively. The running time for "God's Step Children" is 70 minutes. "Pinky" lasts 102 minutes, and "Intruder in the Dark" runs for 87 minutes.

Refreshments will be served in between films.

The showings begin at 10 a.m. in the AAHA's auditorium, which seats about 100 people, said Hughes White. The AAHA is located at 4243 Loudoun Avenue in The Plains.
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