About Happy Birthday, Josephine Baker!

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Josephine Baker, the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, was both liberated and delightfully undignified, playfully vacillating between allure and colonialist stereotyping. Nicknamed the “Black Venus,” “Black Pearl,” and “Creole Goddess,” Baker blended the sensual and the comedic when taking 1920s Europe by storm. Back home in the United States, Baker's film career brought hope to the Black press that a new cinema centered on Black glamour would come to fruition. In her new book, Josephine Baker's Cinematic Prism, Terri Francis examines how Baker fashioned her celebrity through cinematic reflexivity, an authorial strategy in which she placed herself, her persona, and her character into visual dialogue. Francis contends that though Baker was an African American actress who lived and worked in France exclusively with a white film company, white costars, white writers, and white directors, she holds monumental significance for African American cinema as the first truly global Black woman film star.


Terri Francis is the author of Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism (Indiana University Press, 2021). She is Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies and Director of the Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University. Francis’s work centers on innovators and adventurers in film during the early 20th century and the early 21st century. Her publications in Film History, Black Camera, Transition, Feminist Media Histories, and Film Quarterly draw on archival research, cultural history, and visual analysis, set within the vicissitudes of performance and representation. In addition to providing commentary for Salon and NPR, she has curated the film series Race Swap, Black Sun/White Moon, and Love! I’m in Love! Classic Black Cinema of the 1970s at IU Cinema and hosted several Jorgensen Guest Filmmakers, including Julie Dash, Ja’Tovia Gary, Stefani Saintonge, and Cheryl Dunye. 

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. His essays and music criticism have been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. His first full-length poetry collection, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, was released in 2016 from Button Poetry. It was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize and was nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His first collection of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was released in 2017 by Two Dollar Radio and was named a book of the year by Buzzfeed, Esquire, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Paste, CBC, The Los Angeles Review, Pitchfork, and The Chicago Tribune, among others. He released Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest with University of Texas press in 2019. The book became a New York Times Bestseller, was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize, and was longlisted for the National Book Award. His second collection of poems, A Fortune For Your Disaster, was released in 2019 by Tin House and won the 2020 Lenore Marshall Prize. In 2021, he released the book A Little Devil In America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance with Random House.

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