Joséphine Baker en concert a Hambourg le 9 octobre 1964.

By adopting racist clichés, the singer quickly established herself on the Parisian scene and “bypassed” xenophobic fantasies.

In a jungle setting, she swings almost naked with her famous banana belt: by eating racist clichés aimed at blacks, Josephine Baker imposed her skin tone on Parisian theaters but above all “transcendThese are xenophobic fantasies. “If we watch it today, we might be shocked“,” warns historian Pascal Blanchard, co-author of the book Racism in Pictures: Breaking Together, published by La Martinière Editions.

The artist, who will enter the Pantheon on November 30, was born in the American Midwest in 1906. nigger review, a performance at the Music Hall, while performing on Broadway. Her face, her facial expressions, her body… Instantly seduce, the editor-in-chief convinces her to come to Paris.

His first appearance on the Champs-Elysees theater in 1925 would release his legend. There she dances topless with a belt of feathers at the waist. It is a victory for the discriminated dancer in her country, who then lived under the apartheid regime.

«in Kermania»

Very quickly, Josephine Baker benefited from this success. She takes the show to Folies Bergère and replaces the feathers with … a banana belt, a sexy and racist symbol. But the young woman, the personification of modernity, boldly wears it. if it was Banana dance It made her a celebrity, an exceptional phenomenon for a black artist at the time, and marked the beginning of “Bakramania”, as well as a reflection of a historical context specific to the 1920s.

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at this time, “France is a colonial country but also an open country. The first Pan-African Conference on the “Black Race” took place in Paris in 1919. It is also where most black American artists and intellectuals live.», decrypted by Pascal Blanchard, AFP. Hexagons are crossed by “negrophilia‘, adds researcher Jean-Francois Staszak, from the University of Geneva:It is a period characterized by the strange, taste of black masks and especially black body embellishment.».

Josephine Baker in 1925 at the Revue Nègre in Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, with her banana belt. Photography by Lucien Wallery (1863-1935). Leemage / 108: Private Collection

It is precisely in this relationship”allure of disgustTowards the black bodies into which Josephine Baker will slip. “By embracing the fantasy of the “African savage,” she fulfills the audience’s demand for exoticism, but also seizes power by mocking racial stereotypes that she ends up transcending.”, confirms to AFP Michael Cressfield, a researcher in history at the University of Birmingham. by making “Her own imagination is above colonialism, taking over the white man’s gaze‘ adds Pascal Blanchard.

«misunderstood»

Evidence that she was able to free herself from the color of her skin, appearing since the end of the twenties in four films, Princess Tam TamBesides white actors, something Hollywood has long forbidden.

Having become French in 1937, she did not forget her native country, which was involved in the struggle for civil rights. She is the only woman to speak alongside Martin Luther King at the historic 1963 rally, but has been marginalized by African American activists for years.

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«I have misunderstood it. He has been criticized for taking up racist clichés targeting blacks. She was seen as not a very respectable singerMichelle Crisfield says: Her acceptance by the black American community was a kind of “gradual‘, which took years, insists the researcher. In 2006, star Beyoncé praised her for wearing a banana belt during a concert.

Anti-racism and resistance activist Josephine Baker has been criticized by anti-racism activists who criticize her for supporting French colonial policy. In 1931, she presented herself as the face of the Colonial Exposition, but Marshal Lyautey finally opposed this bold choice according to him. “He is someone who has always refused to criticize France, believing that she cannot criticize the country that allowed her freedomPascal Blanchard explains.

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