Friday, May 16, 2008

Addendum IX

An (African) American In Paris

Despite attention to Baker wherever blackness, film, jazz-age France, and primitivism are discussed, she remains an under-analyzed cultural figure in her own right. Her biography too often serves as a site for celebrating the phenomenon of black American success in Paris, obscuring the complexity of her stage and screen roles and the command she held over them. When she is not being celebrated, Baker's victimhood is emphasized to the extent that her films, billed as musical comedies, explicitly use her blackness to exploit the dynamics of assimilation and migration toward their own ideological ends. Indeed, her status as caricature is often cited, which tends to foreclose a more complex consideration of, for example, how she indexes the parallels of black modernity and primitivism. I wish to illustrate instead how the figure of Baker embodies what Hazel Carby called "the crises of representation" that shaped early twentieth-century black popular culture and represents the limitations on forming a coherent public or private, collective or individual identity.

Both in spite and because of the difficulty of separating Baker's persona from her personhood, especially since she and her representatives often used elements of her private life in creating her public image, I refer explicitly to "Josephine Baker" as the persona(s) she projected in her films and performances. The characters that Baker plays in films and on stage, in other words, all functioned as part of her overall celebrity persona. The fact that Baker was a celebrity means that her life, body, and her words, once made public, circulated as consumable signs in an orbit beyond her ultimate control but that was nonetheless generated by her. The roles Baker performed on stage, in films, and in her general celebrity, which set off a storm of criticism and adoration in mid-twenties Paris, thus open up new ways to think about the issues of race and representation that marked the Harlem Renaissance and the phenomenon of European primitivism alike.

In her films, Baker typically plays the role of an anonymous girl who is introduced to the theater and carried away from her everyday life by her "natural" entertainment qualities. Meanwhile, Baker's characters enable the white male characters around her to have a break from their routines . . . [F]ilms like Siren of the Tropics (1927), Les Hallucinations d'un Pompier (circa. 1927), Zou Zou (1934), Princesse Tam Tam (1935), as well as Baker's concert films, each establish visual tropes that make spectacular both blackness and womanhood. These tropes work in tension with their black female characters' sense of self and concept of beauty, with Baker's blackness functioning as a naturalizing sign for her abilities . . . [T]he figure of Baker represents the ways in which black womanhood functions as spectacle in the public sphere, almost to the exclusion of a private, anonymous everyday space for black women. The plots of Baker's films feature protagonists that long for love but get stardom instead of domestic bliss.

[T]he real Paris is often imagined as a racial haven. Baker's success as a singer and dancer is often cited in celebratory narratives of the city. Michel Fabre has described the desire of African Americans at home to share in the international achievement of the expatriates as "lieux de memoire" or sites of recognition. Indeed, the phenomenon of black success in Paris permitted stateside readers to recognize themselves as contributors of culture, which vindicated accusations of inferiority and offered grounds for denaturalizing American racism. Fabre put it this way:

What made Baker's success exceptional was, on the one hand the magnitude of its economic rewards (of which blacks had traditionally been deprived); and, on the other hand, the legitimization of her dancing as a highbrow aesthetic contribution (not only entertainment) in Europe-very much the way that jazz was considered there. Also, isn't it significant that in spite of the way black American women were seen by white Americans, this girl from St. Louis was viewed as one of the most attractive women on earth?

While Baker's success is remarkable in itself, its exceptionality is an insufficient explanation. Baker's embodiment of carefree success must be understood in terms of a complex colonialist context, and of her own complicity with it. From this perspective, I argue that her popularity depended on the way Baker performed her own fame and "freedom." Aesthetically, the figure of Baker galvanized the transformation of nineteenth-century ethnological inquiry and the exotic human display that was part of colonial fairs into mass entertainment. Her performances did facilitate artistic epiphanies for many prominent figures and groups, even if they saw Baker through a haze of misperceptions. Baker blurred lines between high and low and was a reference point many artists used to create high art out of "primitive" works. However, when Baker made moves to perform what she thought was artistic and legitimate, critics in the entertainment press were hardly united in their desire to see her work develop-they wanted the bananas. This resistance shows that Baker's success was specific to one role and her audiences policed its boundaries. The very exceptionality, on which Baker and many of her peers depended in many ways, was a severely limited and unsustainable cultural experience for African Americans.

The internationalism that many in the black vanguard practiced in the 1920s formed part of the basis for the black renaissance that Alain Locke and others formulated. This cosmopolitan, modern figure also played a role in French concepts of its national self. The persona of the modern American African performed by Baker likely appealed to Parisian audiences because it could give the impression of being distanced politically, morally, artistically, and sexually from American racism, as well as from the taint of colonial guilt, Old World musical traditions, and conservative social mores. In my view, this combination of French colonial guilt and fascination toward black (American) people was managed by white Parisian consumption of the spectacle of the free black, which both black American performer-products and white audience- consumers invented. To a large extent, black Americans and white Parisians conspired to submerge actual racist practices and experiences under the desire for what they hoped would feel like freedom and behind the image and rhetoric of "raceless-ness." They created the myth of the free black in Paris, which was crucial, both to the imagination of a modern African America and to the invention of a progressive Paris. Americans writing about their Parisian sojourns, rarely see their fate as linked to that of North Africans and French blacks, yet many writers treated diaspora in their writings.

France's relationship to Africa and the conflict between its rhetorical humanism and active colonialism drove the phenomenon of black American success in Paris. African-American performers like Baker uniquely permitted the combination of (fantastical) references to ancient Africa and to modern black America-bypassing actual, contemporary Africa. This capacity for a number of readings made Baker and black American jazz compelling to Parisians throughout the twentieth century, but particularly in the 1920s and 1930s, the height of colonial wealth and expansion. True that the waves of immigration that have resulted in the cosmopolitan Paris of today are largely a postwar phenomenon, but France has always had their own nègres in a variety of forms and across a number of public and private spheres.

When Baker made her 1925 debut in La Revue Nègre, she was incorporated into (even as she updated) long-standing narratives about black women, Empire, and sexuality in the popular French imagination. Although she sought to command some authority in her self-production, she was "simultaneously locked into a derogatory and objectified essence of black femaleness" as T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting has argued. Crucial for Baker was the way in which a dual reading of her as either cute or savage would result in the elision of her artistic potential. Sharpley-Whiting's formulation of a phenomenon she has named the "black Venus narrative" in French literature, art, and performance explains how Baker's imported body, like nineteenth-century imaginary bodies, represented "the colonized black female body, that is, a body trapped in an image of itself, whose primitivity, exemplified in a childlike comedic posture, sexual deviancy, degradation, and colonization, is intimately linked with sexual difference". The contradictions and doublings of Baker's career foreground the interpenetration of fantasy and racism, which crystallizes in her performances. Baker's complicated performances provide an occasion to point out that one of the ways racial discourse works is to make some bodies more available than others to a certain type of display.

Baker's diasporic performance takes its cues from the forms of ethnological entertainment that made a spectacle of the black Venus narrative-that is, from human displays that translated a study of an ethnic group into a format fit for public amusement. Saartjee Baartman, the Khoi-Koi woman who, around the year 1816, was taken from South Africa to appear in fairs and other kinds of display in Paris and London is one of the most famous examples of such ethnological entertainment. Existing scholarship on early cinema establishes the cinema's affinities with early popular entertainments such as natural history museums, and Fatima Tobing Rony and Alison Griffiths have shown that ethnological spectacles were protocinematic, not just theatrical. The formal and politico-cultural echoes between Baartman's live performances and the cinematic Baker is one of the most striking examples of this continuity, even as generational and historical differences are at play.

Older than cinema, ethnological entertainment is also a mass amusement form, whose influence can be seen in Baker's films roles. Les zoos humains or freak shows were popular in both France and the US during the nineteenth century. "From 1877 to 1912, around 30 'ethnological exhibitions' . . . were produced at the Jardin zoologique d'acclimatation with unwavering success". This park became one of the main sites of the French human zoos. However, Paris' famous music halls, particularly the Folies Bergère, where Baker would perform, were often settings for these race shows. African Americans were neither absent from nor immune to ethnologically inflected, colonization inspired entertainment.

Sometimes produced apart from colonial fairs, the small-scale living dioramas of what was supposed to read as daily life in an African village still merited press coverage. For example, in a June 1895 issue of L'Illustration, a popular French weekly newspaper, I discovered an article on a new diorama in the public park known as Champs de Mars. I quote an excerpt here: "After the Ashantis, the Dahomeans . . . and other savages that have been exhibited for several years in the Jardin d'Acclimation or other areas, here at the Champs-de-Mars, an exhibition of nègres from central and western Africa. The organizers have bound themselves to reconstruct with precision a Sudanese village . . ." (my translation). This simulation of a Sudanese village required 350 uprooted men, women, and children, who had been transported to Paris from Africa. The article does not report on the compensation the people might have been promised or provided. For religious and architectural "precision," organizers built a mud mosque in the center of the village and maintained fidelity to the village's planning by building mud-clay houses and arranging them around the mosque. They even went to the trouble of constructing a 2000-meter artificial lake to replicate what was meant to represent the Sudanese landscape. However, the lake also served as a curious kind of wishing well in which visitors would toss coins and village-diorama children would dive after them, while other village-diorama natives glided by in canoes, dug into whole tree trunks. This clash of spectacle, (normally invisible) daily life, and petty commerce raises the questions: What is the purpose of this display, isolated from a colonial fair? What exactly is the source or the original of this simulation? Is a particular Sudanese village represented? The title "village nègre" suggests that the reproduction was a composite of any and all perceptions of African villages. What does it mean for colonialist exhibition in general and for Baker's roles that specificity is erased in the name of greater "precision" and authenticity? This human zoo exemplifies the way that engaging racial fictions of whiteness, blackness, Africanity and Frenchness, became a significant pastime on the Paris cultural scene.

"Un Village nègre au Champs de Mars" was a living diorama in which a culture's supposed daily life was exhibited for the entertainment of visitors playing the role of lay anthropologists. L'Illustration reported that there was a French brasserieat one corner of the scene and that visitors invited villagers to sit with them and talk. The organizers' attention to detail shows their concern with authenticity; however it is clear that the diorama's realism is in direct proportion to its fakery. It had to fabricate its re-creation of village life. Consequently the diorama deepened the juxtaposition of the Sudanese village and the French capital, making the contrasts more striking and enhancing the frisson of the participation-spectacle. Ultimately, the village nègre plays with the idea of Africans coming to Paris as immigrants and colonial subjects. By making spectacular everyday aspects of their culture, the exhibit distanced the participants and those they represented from participating in French daily life. Unnaturalized in this way, their role was to perform themselves. Fundamentally, the exhibit epitomizes a scene of containment through exposure. In other words, despite the mobility that is implied by the travel involved in creating the exhibit, they were hardly free to move about the country. From the descriptions of the exhibition, it seems to me that the venue in which the Africans are displayed symbolizes and functions as the tool of their confinement. Their exposure as Other to French society nearly limits, or at least circumscribes, any capacity they might have had to lead private lives while in captivity.

The village nègre event is a key example of the overall ethnological entertainment backdrop from which Baker emerged because of its strategy of display. Blending displacement and display, the village nègre exhibit's very name demonstrates its discursive collapsing of a wide variety of African ethnicities into one composite black representative, despite the claims of specificity that L'Illustration reported. This idea of "black" as a general term versus particular ethnicities became a code that developed through other villages nègres and manifested itself in Baker's performances.

Baker was a transatlantic or, more specifically, a black diaspora phenomenon. This translated to her celebrity in the ways that she would portray characters of various ethnicities (drawn from the French empire) while grounding her repertoire in American dance. Baker was an American performer but given the routes of her international career, she is best understood through an international approach to black performance, for regardless of her origins in the US, Baker's dancing and eventually her screen performances took shape in a colonialist context. Baker's position as a black American actress playing the roles of colonial women in French films only crystallizes when viewed in terms of the racial performances that preceded it and the way in which by the mid-to-late 1920s and the 1930s audiences were able to enjoy Baker as a unique creature who was both a screen for the projection of colonialist fantasy and the bearer of black American modernist aesthetics. The colonialist European performance context in which Baker emerged was marked by ethnological entertainment, which formed a defining component of her aesthetic lineage.

In the age of Primitivism and the Harlem Renaissance, Baker's illusions were read in the context of quasi-scientific reproductions of African cultures. The live performers in ethnological spectacles are both objects of entertainment and objects of science because what they do-the dance, for example-is either presented as or perceived as evidence and their bodies are taken as in-the-flesh examples of the entire racial type. When Baker debuted as a live performer in 1925, she was the latest in a long line of black entertainers who were featured in Paris. Her performances played to fantasies about African female sexuality, enticing audiences to forget that she was American and reinventing her as noire - a fictional ethnicity elastic enough to encompass a variety of perceptions of Africans variously located in the diaspora. The Jazz Empress was in this way singular in her capacity to embody the current ideologies of race, women, and the body in interwar Paris. Baker was bodily conscious of her black American performance heritage and expressed a black Atlantic sensibility through bringing together her own repertoire of black moves and new dances from the eclectic and exoticist dance scene in Paris.

Across her fifty-year career, but especially during the interwar years, Baker was seen both as a member of French society and as an Other within it. This unstable position was reflected in the fact that Baker was often identified with her banana skirt, which served as a comic symbol of Baker's sense of movement and her overall blend of sex appeal and comedy. The couronne des hanches (hip crown) was her costume for the danse des bananes. Fleshing out the primitive persona that she established with her shocking 1925 debut in La Revue Nègre, the banana dance was a main number in the 1926 Folies Bergère production, La Folie du Jour, under the direction of Paul Derval. In fact, Folie was Baker's first show at the Montmartre music hall and she broke her contract with La Revue Nègre while on tour in order to take this starring role. The troupe of danse des bananes includes Baker as Fatou, several black men playing natives and a white man in the part of a white explorer, and they are organized along the expected lines of colonialist power relations. The natives carry the explorer's packages and dock his canoe for him. Then, he appears to lounge while Fatou dances. In an attempt to represent an imaginary African landscape, the set simulates a tropical environment complete with a river (implied when the natives pull in the explorer's canoe) and an enormous tree whose branch extends over the stage. Potted plants and a tent on the stage add the finishing touches of fabricated, ethnological realism.

French directors Joe Francis and Alex Nalpas filmed scenes from La Folie du Jour in the spring of 1926, and under the titles La Revue des revues or La Folie du Jour they distributed the film among Folie's cast and management. The performance film may have had a wider audience for promotional purposes since it was released officially in December of 1927 shortly before Baker left Paris to embark on a twenty-five-country world tour. The banana dance also appears in another compilation film of Baker's music hall performances, Joséphine Baker: Star of the Folies Bergère and Casino de Paris. This short film was apparently made in the early 1930s after Baker's world tour and after she had begun performing at the Casino de Paris music hall. Its opening titles are in English and they recount semi-accurately Baker's rise to Parisian stardom from humble origins in "cotton fields." The inaccurate portions still work effectively for Baker's persona. Baker did not rise out of any cotton fields but her people did and this narrative is one way that her American identity remains active in the colonial persona she performs in Paris. The English titles suggest international distribution or specifically American distribution, but perhaps most importantly they figure Baker as an African-American everywoman.

In La Folie du Jour, we see Baker dancing in front of an immobile camera that is positioned at the stage level. It is basically an extended tableau shot of the stage with a few cuts to medium long shots of Baker dancing and close-ups of her facial expression. Baker first appears in the frame crouched and wiggling her fingers. With thumbs hooked behind her ears, she makes a comic gesture toward the film's onstage surrogate audience, the lounging explorer. Then she appears to twirl down the length of the tree branch and a cut to a medium close-up shows her landing on a floor for a brief pose that makes her arms appear to blend into the foliage behind her. Cut back to Baker dancing in front of the explorer and pause. This footage gives access to Baker's early dance and serves as evidence of what it meant to film a stage performance in France in the twenties. In this case, we see a theatrical style with frontal framing, static camera, few cuts, and no variation in camera angle.

Baker's dance merits careful attention so that we can understand how it is translated cinematically. Two of Baker's most significant moves in the danse des bananes speak to what we could call a Black Atlantic or African diaspora movement sensibility. First, after her entrance and an initial shimmy, Baker appears to fling herself to the floor and in the next shot she has risen to face the white man with her arms extended overhead. She holds the pose for an extra beat and then twirls her hands slowly, shakes her head, smiles, and circles her hips quickly, while moving her stomach slowly. The bananas on Baker's costume shimmy in yet another sphere of rhythm as they independently knock against each other and against her legs. The drummers move around her creating a sense of musical flow from the drums to Baker's dancing and back again. Characteristic of African dance, polyrhythmic and polycentric movements feature prominently in Baker's dance practice.

In Baker's second key move, she bends the upper-body forward at an angle with the arms hanging diagonally toward the ground, and the knees bent. This posture raises and isolates her buttocks and Baker pivots in a circle while shaking her hips very fast, the impression of speed enhanced by the shaking bananas. Baker does what appears to be a traditional African move in which the dancer shifts the lower body from left to right, with exaggerated hips, and throwing the arms out to the opposite side. In the danse des bananes as in danse sauvage and other routines, Baker combines a series of postures and movements, going through them plotlessly and quickly, with only brief dance poses. However, the circling rump and the rocking tummy/shimmy recur in this dance like a bodily chorus. Thus, whereas the visual drama of the music hall relies on frequent costume changes, Baker made her body into a music hall by changing her movements and relying on juxtapositions. Earlier dance films tend to focus on a dancer or group of dancers doing a specific dance, such as the cakewalk or belly dance. In a Primitivist context, Baker's seemingly spontaneous dancing was (mis)interpreted as an expression of freedom of the body and the black essence. In a sense, her dancing came to represent the glamour and energy of Paris.

Details of her movements and costume reveal the ways in which Baker's dance combined American and African elements. The bananas make a tropical reference that could be either to the Caribbean or Africa. Baker's bright white brassiere is more of an American element than an African one. Covering her breasts was probably in response to Americans who were part of the imagined international audience for the film because Baker regularly performed topless in her music-hall shows.

The topic of hair bears a great deal of meaning for black female representation. Baker's hair is shiny and straightened. By straightening her hair, Baker represented the modern Black woman. In Baker's era, choosing to process one's hair helped to signify a break with "country" and older ways, because it involved being serviced by another person, engaging a chemical process and reconstructing the self in order to play a public role, usually within white society. What was at stake in hairstyle was Baker's public identity as a modernized American woman, which was layered over the Africanist dancing she performed.

Baker's dance combines vague gestures toward Africa with her personal signature moves such as crossing the knees and eyes simultaneously. These moves and other improvisations add a playful and nonthreatening tone to Baker's dance. Danse des Bananes is based in a colonialist imaginary but includes elements of an Americanized African-ness under an ethnographic gaze. Like the live performance of her danse sauvage in La Revue Nègre, Baker danced topless at the Folies, but she does not have a partner in this routine. The African male drummers who play and dance around the African-American performer add to the spectacle of racial performance, and a lounging white explorer provides a conventional masculine presence for sexual tension as well as a colonialist audience surrogate. Baker's banana ballet shows strong influences from African dance traditions and includes black American movements as well as her signature eye crossing. The costume itself was meant to humorously concretize Baker's exotic colonial persona, and it took on a life of its own during and after Folie's run. Baker writes, "For this show, someone had the idea of having me wear only and for always a belt of bananas. Oh! How this idea has turned ridiculous! How many drawings and caricatures it has inspired! Only the devil, apparently, could have invented something like that" (my translation). Indeed, the costume's designer is uncertain, as Jean-Claude Baker put it: the paternity is attributed to different people, particularly Jean Cocteau or Poiret, who did design evening gowns especially for La Vénus Noire.

In a sense Baker became the banana belt, a commodification of natural talent or raw material; she was a product of the Empire. In the banana dance, she's meant to be a fantastical creature, a bunch of bananas animated as a beautiful dancing girl, transformed by colonialist fantasy. Baker represented colonial commerce and abundance of raw materials. Like the bananas, Baker had become a transnational commodity. She was an advertisement come to life. Among Baker's most popular songs of the 1930s was the double entendre ditty, "voulez-vous de la canne à sacre?" (Would you like some sugarcane?). As this material suggests, Baker's persona was associated with the products of colonialism. In this regard, Baker's signification is continuous with advertisements for rum, tobacco, or other colonial products that used images of black females to represent the product's faraway origins and its ability to arouse curiosity as pleasure.

Imperial and sexual politics within France are inscribed both in Baker's performance and in its reception. While her brand of novelty dancing was often called savage and animalistic early in her career, Baker's onstage sexuality was viewed as playful and nonthreatening in the thirties. Unlike her predecessors in freak shows, Baker was not seen as a monstrous freak. She performed a form of feminine sexuality that when combined with her ethnic notions, or those projected on to her, made people laugh. Yet Baker seems to have been ambivalent about being a comic as well as about her famous banana costume.6 Baker and the bananas became so closely associated that she had great difficulty separating herself from that twenties' performance when she sought to develop her singing and acting in pursuit of a more sophisticated persona in the 1930s. In her postwar onstage or made-for-television performances, however, Baker displayed a sense of humor about her early days. For example, during a performance recorded at Olympia music hall, she struggles to sit on the edge of stage, but she laughs it off with a quip about her complications and how much easier everything was "quand j'avais mes banane" (when I used to have my bananas) (The Josephine Baker Show). Such moments provide an occasion to look at two Josephines simultaneously: the mature chanteuse of ballads and novelty songs and the younger woman who performed as a belt of dancing bananas.

Looking back, the anonymous men, women, and children who portrayed village life at colonial fairs in the United States and in Europe are less easily assimilated into the fantasy of Paris as a refuge, when compared with the often celebrated history of early twentieth-century soldiers and jazz musicians who preceded Baker in Paris. These "actors," I suggest, are Baker's precursors because their spectacularity created a context for Baker's innovative creations and the audience's capacity to interpret them, though their conclusion was often that Baker was illegible. Baker's performances replaced the single-emphasis and illustrative function of early ethnic representations with the glib way in which she would layer African and American elements, confusing any distinction between those that were authentic and those that she choreographed. Through her dancing (and eventually its adaptation to musical comedy films) Baker created an entirely fictional, elastic ethnicity. Taking account of the invented nature of Baker's elastic ethnicity and its history problematizes the much romanticized relationship between the French and black people, particularly Americans.

In order to appreciate the heterogeneity of Baker's fictional ethnicity, it is important to consider the racialized images from United States culture on which she drew. Alongside the live ethnographic displays of the nineteenth century, early African-American dance films, in particular, figure into Baker's aesthetic lineage. The visual and kinetic aspects of the cakewalk phenomenon, to name perhaps the most salient example, were captured on film. These films last from twenty or thirty seconds to several minutes and isolate the dance from the revue from which it was likely extracted. The framing was relatively expanded for that purpose but not to the extent of revealing a context such as a stage or other background. These are single subject films and might have been part of a longer program of dance or spectacle films. Early black dance films provided exposure for performers while today they serve as texts that show key elements of particular dances. These films can be employed to speak to issues of race and representation precisely because they are performance pieces isolated from a larger narrative. As film, the performances become signs, at once more superficial and denser in their meanings and associations.

The dancing in cakewalk films appears to have been performed exclusively for the camera even when it is paired with acting sequences in a longer work. For example, in Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903), a sequence called "Tom and Eva in the Garden" breaks the narrative in order to feature a performance. In the dance, four couples cakewalk on a stage with a painted backdrop. In a tight shot, stylishly dressed women carry umbrellas and high step in circles. One of the women raises the hem of her dress with one hand, in a slightly flirtatious gesture. In a 30-second Biograph film, Ballyhoo Cake (1903), several couples perform the dance outdoors; however, there is minimal description of the space they occupy and the camera frames the bodies tightly. This method holds for films of non-American exotica such as Fatima's dance du ventre (1896). It shows Fatima, a woman in an Orientalist costume, moving her arms up and down, with some shoulder movement, but she concentrates her most dramatic series of moves on the belly. The Fatima of this earlier film may be the same performer who was later acclaimed as "the greatest Oriental dancer" and featured in the film Fatima's Coochee-Coochee Dance (by late July 1896). An April 1896 article in the New York Clipper described Fatima as: "an oriental dancer who has become particularly well-known in this city and vicinity, also danced in the second scene of Marguerite, and apparently found much favor with the audience. Many of the objectionable features of her performance were omitted, but, nevertheless, her motions throughout the dance strongly suggested the 'couchee-couchee'". This excerpt implies that Fatima's film performance was edited as a means of censoring the overly sexualized aspects of her dancing. The unique possibilities of film material permitted spontaneous and repeated viewing that could be edited, as desired. Though these short films have a realist or documentary function, they nonetheless participated in the formation of racial and gendered fictions. The example of Fatima further illustrates this point.

A May 1896 advertisement also in the New York Clipper announced that Fatima had just closed "six weeks of successful engagement at Hammerstein's Olympia, N.Y. City". Fatima was "the lady whose graceful interpretations of the poetry of motion has made this dance (the danse du ventre) so popular of recent years". Thus the film producer James White of Raff & Gammon sought to capitalize on the audience's desire to see her again or for the first time in the peep-hole kinetoscope. Novelties of motion, viewing, and the illicit, the couchee-couchee dance and the kinetoscope function symbiotically. Further, many black dance films can be best described as triple novelty. They showed "black" skin, motion (of image and figure), and the projection and enlargement of an image-or the miniaturizing of an image in the kinetoscope. This was a crucial moment when African American identity was cast as an aesthetic construction by the medium of film. This cinematic blackness circulated with a variety of ethnic dances and exotic performances.

Through these early films, the spectator saw live performance brought closer to them as a recorded image. The screen showed a dancer or dancers directing their performance to the camera. The actors' gazes and bodies are directed toward the camera rather than toward the scene within the shot. Without a before and after, the performance appears unmotivated, which makes the absence of a narrative as much of a problem as a solution. Fatima's act and early black dancing such as the cakewalk foregrounded the special capacities of motion picture film while "documenting" and naturalizing the idea of blacks as entertainers. Images of black dancing made stars not just of the individuals on the screen but of all black people. It characterized them through the body and defined them in terms of their physicality. The material of film and the image of the black dancer create a double astonishment by combining the attraction of the body and the spectacle of film. Significantly, the films featured the dancing of particular cultural groups, and the isolation of the dancer and dance from their contexts tends to make them a sign of their culture. As such, they are quite different from the living dioramas and cultural replicas of African-American or African cultures I described above, but they are linked discursively through the primary goal of exhibiting an Other.

As I have sought to show by bringing together black performances from the US and France, as well as from theater, musical hall, and cinema, live ethnological spectacles could, and did take many forms. One reason for this variety is that the European audience member had one way of looking at foreign peoples: as objects. And this ethnographic gaze was adaptable to a number of commercially viable performance venues, which served as enlargers or projectors, using light and visual language to transport an image of the live figure from the "real" to the realm of myth. In many ways, much writing about Baker presumes a white male spectator who provided a uniformly positive reception of Baker. If it was not entirely positive, it certainly brought Baker the kind of attention that helped to make her a star.

From Embodied Fictions, Melancholy Migrations: Josephine Baker's Cinematic Celebrity by Terri Francis