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JOSEPHINE BAKER
Black Diva in a White Man's World

Josephine Baker

Director: Annette von Wangenheim
From: Germany
Year: 2006- Minutes: 45
Language :English/French/German with English subtitles
Genre: documentary

A tender, revealing documentary about one of the most famous and popular performing artists of the 20th century. Her legendary banana belt dance created theatre history; her song “J’ai deux amours” became a classic, and her hymn.

The film focuses on her life and work from a  perspective that analyses images of Black people in popular culture. It portrays the artist in the mirror of European colonial clichés and presents her as a resistance fighter, an ambulance driver during WWII, and an outspoken activist against racial discrimination involved in the worldwide Black Consciousness movement of the 20th century.

 

"Josephine Baker: Black Diva in a White Man's World, focuses on Josephine Baker's life and work from a black perspective. For black Americans, Baker became 'a role model' and their 'queen'. Baker herself "wasn't allowed to be the real American [she] wanted to be…" where in another article she says, "I had been suffocating in the United States... A lot of us left, not because we wanted to leave, but because we couldn't stand it anymore…"

Josephine Baker

 

During the mid-1920s Baker found fame in Paris, performingat the Théatre des Champs-Élysées and eventually the FoliesBergères. Some may argue it came at a cost; she oftenpreformed in erotic costumes with racist overtones. There is continuous footage of a bare-chested Baker with bananas around her waist—the bananas representing a phallic symbol. She had become the primitive savage and this image was to become a massive marketing tool. The dance routines are seen as distasteful now, but at the time it was 'an…aspect of a Black popular culture forced to adapt to white tastes.' Because the routines were new and exotic, the French crowds loved her. She did find hostile reactions in Germany and Austria (more conservative in nature), where she was booed on stage. Her adopted son comments Baker 'wasn't proud' of that chapter in her life. As her career flourished, a fully-clothed Baker went on to become a superstar in France. But sadly nothing had changed in America, where the "artist [was] admired on stage, but came though the kitchen." She struggled to find acceptance with the white American audiences, and returned to Paris broken hearted.

But you have to admire Baker for more than just a performer. In 1940, Baker joined the French Resistance to help in the war effort. It is said she was a visionary for world peace, adopting 12 children of different nationalities, long before Angelina Jolie made it fashionable. In the 1960s, she joined the anti-racist movement spreading throughout America, and was the only woman to speak at the 1963 Walk on Washington rally: "…you can't put freedom at the lips of the people and don't expect them to drink it."

Baker's career spanned fifty years, and she is portrayed as a true superstar, one with grace and humility. Black Americans loved her, the French referred to her as their "Black Venus" and in the last years of her life white, American audiences gave her the standing ovation she longed for. Josephine Baker: Black Diva in a White Man's World really shines with the 1920s footage of Baker's dancing routines. It captures an era long passed, and although the routines leave an unpleasant taste, with their racist overtones, one can appreciate Baker's intense energy and comedian abilities. With the odds stacked against her Baker forged a career and life which would inspire many.." - Pat Reid


DVD sale: $245

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