Racial segregation and inequality issues have remained urgent in American society for decades. The film Devil in a Blue Dress is based on the eponymous novel written by Walter Mosley. The characteristic features of the neo-noir genre tincture the film with the elements of mystery, which creates both semantic load and emotional appeal. This story is set in 1948, a postwar period, covering different aspects regarding relationships between white and black groups, attitudes towards the people of color, and explicit discriminatory manifestations. Furthermore, much attention is dedicated to black women who pass as white and how society reacts to such tricks.
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The first scene depicts Easy Rawlins, the World War II veteran, who was unfairly fired from the aircraft manufacturing company. He is struggling to find new opportunities because he needs to pay the mortgage. Luckily, DeWitt Albright gives him a chance to earn enough money in case Easy completes a certain task. This episode has hints of confidentiality and conceals many uncertainties because Albright does not immediately reveal all the details of the mission.
However, later he explains that Todd Carter, a mayoral candidate in Los Angeles, is searching for her girlfriend Daphne Monet who escaped several days ago (Devil in a Blue Dress). Her distinctive feature concerning passion for the black community is why Albright appointed Easy for this mission and offered reasonable remuneration.
In the evening, Easy goes to his favorite secret club for black people where he expects to meet Daphne because she is known as a frequent visitor there. He meets his friends there and asks everyone about the young white women. Interestingly, Coretta affirms that she knows Daphne and reveals crucial facts about this woman, but Easy needs to pay for this information. Afterward, Rawlins meets Albright at the Malibu where the protagonist reveals that Daphne Monet has connections with some Frank Green, a black gangster in the region, and reports his home address. Before their conversation, there was an incident that is not directly related to the story but rather depicts the attitudes towards black people at that time.
A white stranger girl comes near Easy and starts a causerie, while one of her white male friends accuses a black man of seducing her. Indeed, the results of numerous research studies have revealed that segregation was evident during the Great Depression and postwar period, reaching its peak in 1970 (Logan 1). Therefore, the people of color were often accused of something they never did.
The next scene is also associated with discrimination and persecution because Easy is blamed for Coretta’s death as he was the last to visit her that day. When he meets Daphne in Hotel Ambassador, she also uses this argument to persuade Easy to take her to the required destination where they found another person dead. That way, the film gets more confused and resembles a detective story with many missing clues and mysterious events. At this moment, Easy wonders why Daphne is important for many people, including her boyfriend Todd Carter, another mayoral candidate Terell, and Frank Green.
The upshot of the film is centered around Daphne Monet and her secrets. This woman has found compromising materials that threaten the reputation of Terell to help her boyfriend to win the mayoral race. At the same time, she kept her family secrecy regarding her half-brother born from a black father. In case the community gets to know about her partial African-American heritage, Carter is not likely to win the mayoral race. Despite such dramatic events in the Devil in a Blue Dress film, director Sirk considered that emotional outbursts were not appropriate in the neo-noir genre.
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When comparing Devil in a Blue Dress to Imitation of Life, a sharp contrast is evident between the representation of black women passing as white. The film Imitation of Life is a romantic drama with a focus is put on emotions and feelings that complement the actions of characters. Thus, Sarah Jane, a young girl passing as white, whose mother Annie is black, consciously rejects her African-American heritage to have more opportunities and succeed in life (Imitation of Life).
As this story was originally set in 1933, Jim Crow Codes were still functioning in American society, imposing major restrictions on black people (Braik 23). Similar to Sarah Jane, Daphne Monet conceals her secrecy because she is confident that it will not be accepted by the public. However, Daphne’s character is contrasting to that of Sarah Jane in terms of acknowledging the importance of her family. While the latter does not want to recognize her racial and cultural belonging, Monet supports her half-brother and escapes from the town with him.
The film Devil in a Blue Dress introduces many topics for discussion, including the racial problem in the United States. Despite numerous legal acts and regulations aimed at providing equal opportunities for all community members, partial segregation and some hints of discrimination still exist. Much attention is also dedicated to Daphne who passes as white but has a black half-brother. She undermines the reputation of her boyfriend only due to this biographical fact. Even though this film covers postwar America, its importance is evident at the present because racial problems are rather common at the time.
Braik, Fethia. “New Deal for Minorities during the Great Depression.” Journal of Political Science and International Relations, vol. 1, no. 1, 2018, pp. 20-24.
Devil in a Blue Dress. Directed by Karl Franklin, TriStar Pictures. 1995.
Imitation of Life. Directed by Douglas Sirk, Universal Pictures. 1959.
Logan, John R. “The Persistence of Segregation in the 21st Century Metropolis.” City Community, vol. 12, no. 2, 2013, pp. 1-10.