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Josephine Baker and Katherine DunhamDances in Literature and Cinema$
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Hannah Durkin

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042621

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042621.001.0001

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Performing within Primitivism

Performing within Primitivism

Baker on the French Silent Screen

(p.75) Chapter Three Performing within Primitivism
Josephine Baker and Katherine Dunham

Hannah Durkin

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines Baker’s two feature-length silent films, La Revue des revues and La Sirène des tropiques (both 1927). It shows how their staging of Baker’s dancing body plays into early-twentieth-century colonial and primitivist fantasies but simultaneously allows the star to showcase a self-referential performance style with origins in Black vaudeville. The chapter also juxtaposes Baker’s work with the regimented routines of white chorus girls and traces her film stardom’s impact on 1920s African American audiences. The coexistence of competing significations in these films underscores the fundamental ambiguity of Baker’s performances, which allow for readings of both subjugation and contestation.

Keywords:   Josephine Baker, La Sirène des tropiques, La Revue des revues, French cinema, silent film, dance, Paris music hall, vaudeville, primitivism, African American film

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