“Because Who is Josephine Baker if not Her Generation’s Megan Thee Stallion? ”

By Makiyah Adams, Class of 2023, Philadelphia, PA, March 22, 2021
A conversation with film archivist Dr. Terri Simone Francis on the subject on her debut book.

On Josephine Baker and Her Cinematic Prisms

Dr. Terri Simone Francis is the Director of the Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University. As a scholar of Black film and critical race theory, her work involves archival research, cultural history, and visual analysis. We met for a little to talk about her debut book “Josephine Baker and her Cinematic Prisms”. 

To hear Dr. Terri Simone Francis elegize Josephine Baker is to bear witness to as a decade’s plus of research converges into a singular wave of gratitude. 

After reading Francis’ book, you’ll be emulating the same enthusiasm. 

Of Baker, she says, “She showed up in my life when I was a young woman in my 20s in Paris, supposed to be studying whatever it was- I got distracted.” 

Francis expounds on this with the information that having art and culture so easily accessible as a young person in France, molded her into a different person and that “learning about Josephine Baker was a part of that.” “It was weird,” Francis says, “because, at the time, a lot of what I read about her in terms of scholarship was sort of critical and disappointed in her. Like it was unfortunate that she was just dancing and bananas but we should focus more on her later life as an activist.” 

“No,” this author asserts. “I was drawn to the bananas part. We probably all need more of that. Just be exuberant, wear clothes, have fun, be in love, be excited, and sparkle.” 

Dr. Francis explains that this insistence on rejoicing in the aspects of life sometimes deemed frivolous is a historical project. She poses the question: “What are we going to be free for if not to love, to live, and to just feel alive?” To answer this question, she states “The whole point of dismantling slavery was it being free people wanting to be together at home; we need that. That’s your humanity.” 

The emphasis on humanity was key to Francis’ approach to writing her book. Dr. Francis observes, “We often think of someone like Josephine Baker, as someone who gets read and gets read on to.” 

“In my work,” Francis adds, “I’ve been thinking about her as a subject of the book, not an object. I was really careful to position her as a viewer, a maker of performance, of knowledge, and a purveyor of ideas.”

To learn more about Josephine as a multifaceted human in addition to being a Jass Age Icon please join FLEFF on Monday, March 29th at 6 PM as we host the launch of “Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism”. This event features a conversation between, Dr. Francis, and film historian and archivist Jan- Christopher Horak, along with film scholar Michael B Gillepsie as moderator.