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July 7, 2000

Princeton Conference to Address Race, Women and Film, Sept. 22-23

Actress Halle Berry to give keynote address

Princeton, N.J. -- Actress Halle Berry will give the keynote address in a free, two-day program at Princeton University that examines Hollywood's portrayal of issues of race and gender.

The conference, "Imitating Life: Women, Race, Film, 1932-2000," centers around the two classic film versions of Fannie Hurst's 1932 book, Imitation of Life. The book and movies tell of two widows -- one black and one white -- who join forces to support their two young daughters. The story explores issues of race, single motherhood and biracial friendship.

The conference begins at 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22 with showings of the two movies -- the 1934 film by John Stahl and the 1959 version by Douglas Sirk.

Berry will speak at 8 p.m. Friday in McCosh 10 on the Princeton campus.

On Saturday, Sept. 23, Princeton's program continues with three panels of distinguished filmmakers, scholars and authors discussing issues of women, race and the Hollywood depiction of African-Americans on screen. The agenda includes a discussion of how the film might be remade for today's audiences -- if it could be remade at all.

"Imitation of Life is an abiding bit of mid-twentieth century melodrama, which still attracts audiences black and white, old and young," said historian Nell Irvin Painter, director of Princeton University's Program in African-American Studies, who is organizing the conference. "It may be dated and flawed, but its subject matter and the story-around-the-story entwine with vital issues in race relations and women's advancement.

Painter noted that the works appeared at "critical moments in the progress of race relations in the 1930s and 1950s. This makes it an excellent marker with which to assess and evaluate the distance society has traveled over the past 65 years and to survey the ground yet left to cover."

Berry won a Screen Actors Guild award and a Golden Globe award for her performance last year as actress Dorothy Dandridge in an HBO film. She also received the NAACP Image Award. "Ms. Berry is a thoughtful descendant of the conditions this conference addresses," Painter said. "We are delighted she has agreed to appear."

The program is sponsored by Princeton's Program in African-American Studies, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. A full schedule is available at