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The Josephine Baker Movie Essay, Research Paper
Movie Review: The Josephine Baker Story
Born on June 3, 1906, Josephine Baker was a survivor. Far from the glitter and gaiety that characterized her beloved Paris, Baker’s beginnings were harsh and difficult. Born in the slums of St. Louis, Missouri, Baker grew up sleeping in cardboard shelters and scavenging for food in garbage cans.
At age 13, Baker left her parents’ house and got a job as a waitress. Soon afterwards, she married Willie Wells. However, the marriage ended in divorce, and she returned to her waitress job. She then joined a group of performers, the Jones Family Band, and had her stage debut at the Booker T. Washington Theater, a black vaudeville house in St. Louis.
By age 18, she was out of Missouri, had been discovered in New York and was performing with numerous troupes in various stage productions. Some of these productions included the Folies-Bergeres, Ziegfeld Follies, and the famed Le Negre Revue in Paris. In Le Negre Revue, Baker danced with a male partner; her costumes consisting of a skirt of feathers. It was in Paris that Baker’s transformation began.
For a city that was bursting with the spirit and rhythm of jazz, Baker was a perfect match. She was an entertainer and dancer, known for her contortionist positions, striking ebony features, and her cross-eyed face that she made. As she swung from a trapeze at the Folies-Bergere or tossed flowers to her audience, Baker embodied the pain and emotion of the times.
During the early 30s, Baker toured Europe, recorded songs for Columbia Records, and starred in different two films, Zou-Zou and Princess Tam-Tam. In 1935, Baker hesitantly returned to the United States searching for the success she had in France. However, American audiences weren t ready for a black woman with the style, grace, and sophistication that Baker possessed. Before returning to France, Baker divorced her second husband, Willie Baker, who she had married in 1920. In 1937, she married Jean Lion, a French sugar broker, and became a French citizen. However, the marriage ended 14 months later.
With the rise of Hitler, Europe experienced a transformation, which affected Baker in several ways. In a Europe split with hate and intolerance, Baker engaged in undercover work for the French Resistance during World War II. She became an “honorable correspondent” and became sub-lieutenant in the Women s Auxiliary of the French Air Force.
In 1940, Baker moved to Morocco. In 1942, she toured the region performing for the resistance. She returned to France in 1944, got married in 1947 to Jo Bouillon, an orchestra leader, and was back in the States in 1948, where she became an activist for civil rights. Baker was back in France in 1954, with the intention of raising a family of ethnically diverse children that she had brought to France from her tours around the world. She called them her “Rainbow Tribe.”
In her last years, Baker suffered struggles, financial difficulties, and poor health. In 1973, she married Robert Brady, an American artist. She died on April 12, 1975, four days after the opening of Josephine; a show based on her life. Her funeral took place in her beloved France, the country that she had adopted as her home.
Although Baker’s life was full of struggles to overcome the difficulties and limitations, she lived her life passionately. She had four spouses, adoring audiences and she closely related with celebrities such as Grace Kelly or Maurice Chevalier and important politicians such as de Gaulle, Castro, and Mussolini. Many years after her death, Josephine Baker’s charm, vivacity, and captivation live on and so does her legend.
The reason why I chose to do my mini-project on Josephine Baker was because I felt that she would be an interesting woman to learn more about. She was an African American woman, who became a famous dancer and singer, while living in the era of racism and prejudice. I wanted to learn more about how she worked her way up to the top with many limitations because of her skin color. I also wanted to learn more about how Josephine Baker kept her hopes and dreams alive to make them come true. Josephine Baker sounded like a woman who was so determined to make the world look past her skin color and see her talents shine through.
After watching the movie biography of Josephine Baker, I was surprised about the way she gained her fame and fortune. I do agree that she does have talent, but I did not really find it appealing to see her flaunting her barely covered body as a positive form of entertainment. Also, her talent was not what I expected. I was expecting to see graceful and swan-like movements, but what I saw in the movie were sharp and rigid dance movements that made her form of entertainment as running and jumping around on the stage. There was a part in the movie when she was learning how to ballet, but it was not a success because her toes bled. In my opinion, this scene symbolized her lack of grace. Besides my negative opinion on her so-called talent in dancing, I enjoyed the scene where she united African American soldiers with white American soldiers as one army during her stay in Morocco. She was more than just a dancer and singer, she was a woman with pride for her country.
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