Kirk E. Killikan’s heartfelt documentary “A Star Without a Star: The Untold Juanita Moore Story” builds on the case for Moore—the director’s grandmother and Academy Award nominee, whose career spans over eight decades—to be honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Spanning 19 years, The Labor of Love includes the visions and testimonies of actors like Sidney Poitier and Louise Fletcher, who both died before the film was completed. Despite the structure briefly wandering into the film’s later phases, the doc makes a very strong case for Moore’s contributions.
Nowadays, films such as Hidden Figures and The King’s Woman have expanded the range of screen roles available to black performers. But “A Star Without a Star” occupies a different HollywoodAnd the The parts of black actresses were largely confined to chorus girls and mothers. The film juxtaposes examples of Hollywood’s overtly racist past with the prevailing nationalist mood of the time – civil rights protests including the March on Washington in the 1960s, Charlottesville and television coverage of the murder of George Floyd today – cleverly comments that despite all the progress that has been made since those early days , there is still much to be done.
Moore was a child when she moved to Los Angeles from the South with her family during the Great Migration after World War I. Inspired by a group of black touring artists called the Lafayette Players, she went to New York in the 1930s and became a girl choir at the Cotton Club during the Harlem Renaissance. In 1935, at the age of twenty-one, she traveled to Europe to play at the London Palladium and a stint at the Moulin Rouge. Her high-kicking dancing made her a sensation in Paris, and she remembers her time there as “the only place I ever felt like a human being.”
However, Moore missed her friends and family back in the US. She returned to Los Angeles and danced at the Cotton Club in Culver City while landing small uncredited parts in Hollywood, primarily as a dancer. By 1937, she had earned her SAG card, one of the first black actors to become a union member. She studied at the Actors Lab in Los Angeles, along with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, but the group was accused of communist connections by House Un-American Activities Committee Senator Joe McCarthy in the late 1940s and forced to disband. The document draws a link to the committee and its apartheid policies, including bigoted quotes from gossip columnist and HUAC supporter Hedda Hopper.
However, Moore continued to work. Her big break came in the 1959 film Imitation of Life, directed by Douglas Sirk, who portrayed her alongside Lana Turner as a maid with a fair-skinned daughter who disavows her and tries to be white. Annie Moore shows a range of emotions that somehow settle on love. The film was the biggest international blockbuster at the time, and the role earned Moore an Academy Award nomination. “Her performance was layered,” says Fletcher, who starred with Moore in 1988’s Two Moon Junction.
Moore thought the interest would bring more opportunity, but it’s been two years and parts haven’t changed. “There were other roles, but for a while I just wasn’t going to take it,” she says. “Then I realized nothing was going to happen, so I fell back into the same old groove.” Her next two films saw her play maids. Poitiers, who calls Moore’s abilities “extraordinary”, puts the degrading work into perspective, stating that the actors “had to eat, they had to live, they had to survive”.
Later, Moore became involved in community theater, and co-founded the Cambridge Players in Los Angeles. One of their shows: “Amen’s Corner,” which she had boyfriend Marlon Brando for, gave $75 to James Baldwin in the ’50s to write.
Moore, who died in 2014 at the age of 99, applied for inclusion on the Walk of Fame in 1998, and has been posthumously nominated every year since 2019. The document notes that black talent makes up only 5% of the current stars on the Walk, and It includes an interview with an anonymous representative of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the Walk of Fame, and outlines the criteria for inclusion: not just fame, but a solid list of film credits (here, the doc goes through over 70, last in 2001) and community involvement.
In the end, the good news (not included in the movie, but almost certainly will as a result) is that Moore will receive her star next year, according to WABC-TV — making “A Star Without a Star” a testament to tenacity, passion, and persuasion.