[Marxism] Josephine Baker

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 17 09:54:08 MST 2007

Notwithstanding the seemingly inexorable tendency for New York to become 
a theme park for hedge fund managers based on health clubs and million 
dollar condos, there are still some things that make living here 
worthwhile. One of them is the accessibility to high quality films that 
never make it to the hinterlands, especially those shown at specialty 
film festivals like the African Diaspora Film Festival that is running 
between November 23rd and December 6th this year.

I had the opportunity to see a documentary on Josephine Baker that will 
be shown on Friday, November 30th. Directed by Annette Von Wangenheim, 
it is a fascinating look at a personality I had only knew by reputation 
before. Aptly titled “Josephine Baker: Black Diva in a White Man’s 
World,” it is a study of the very first Black female to become a major 
figure in the entertainment world. What I didn’t realize, however, is 
that Baker had much in common with figures such as Paul Robeson and 
Harry Belafonte, who used their fame and prestige to promote a 
progressive agenda.

Born in 1906, Baker was a highly successful chorus line performer by the 
early 1920s. In 1925, she made a debut appearance in the Théatre des 
Champs-Élysées and eventually became a regular at the Folies Bergères. 
Vintage films from the period show Baker dancing in erotic costumes with 
racist overtones, such as a string of bananas that one interviewee 
regarded as a phallic symbol as well. That was basically the mold that 
Baker was cast into in this period, one combining powerful racial and 
sexual motifs. As repellent as the African savage imagery of her dances 
now appears, it must be remembered that this was an almost inevitable 
aspect of a Black popular culture forced to adapt to white tastes. Duke 
Ellington also performed “jungle” music and Louis Armstrong sang about 
“darkies” in Mississippi.

full: http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2007/11/17/josephine-baker/

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