Today in history, June 3rd, 1906… dancer, singer and actress Freda Josephine McDonald (aka Josephine Baker), who gained fame in Paris, France, thanks to her risque cabaret and musical hall performances, was born in St. Louis, Missouri.
While Ms Baker did perform on screen in a number of films – Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princesse Tam Tam (1935), notably – she’s probably more universally recognized for her vaudeville stage musical acts which helped her become maybe the first international black female celebrity.
She was also politically active, making contributions to the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States, and assisted the French Resistance during World War II, becoming the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de guerre.
She died on April 12th, 1975 at age 68.
Since then, there’s really been only 1 true attempt to tell her story in a scripted biopic – the 1991, HBO movie, The Josephine Baker Story, which starred Lynn Whitfield as Baker. Whitfield would go on to win an Emmy Award for her performance!
HBO Home Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray in January of this year.
Louis Gossett Jr., and Ruben Blades co-starred.
In the documentary category, check out Josephine Baker: Black Diva in White Man’s World, a 45-minute doc released by Artmattan, which:
… 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.
The film was screened last night actually, in New York, presented by the African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF). You can also pick up a copy on Artmattan’s website HERE.
And lastly, there was this 2009 BBC-produced hour-long documentary titled Josephine Baker – the First Black Superstar, which takes a look at the life of Baker. I found the entire documentary on YouTube, which is embedded below, so watch it now: