Thirty-nine black people had died that day. The voice-over introduction summarizes the film project as it was originally conceived by Halle Berry, one of the producers who presented the endeavor as follows:. For me, the paradox that makes Dorothy such a fascinating character is that she was a pioneer who possessed incredible inner strength to achieve, but ultimately the industry did not know what to do with her. Personal tragedies can often overshadow professional triumph. Like The Josephine Baker Story and its visual representation of the banana dance, the Dandridge biopic foregrounds what the real-life actress is still famous for: her performance in Carmen Jones Otto Preminger, Both artists are introduced as objects of gaze, but the swift intervention of a voice-over allows them to exist also as the subjects and narrators of their own lives.
I just need you to stay on the phone. As previously mentioned, the first image of Dorothy Dandridge corresponds to her photograph on the cover of Life Magazine , the pages of which the hotel concierge is reading. Her ceremonial gown and authoritative tone immediately change the look cast on her by the male concierge. I will make them love you. I know women. I know how to light them, to shoot them, to create them for the screen.
And if you let me, I will seduce the audience for you. I will make sure they never forget the name Dorothy Dandridge. In other words, the film deconstructs the reifying process underlying the representation of black womanhood on screen: the woman may refuse her own objectification, but she cannot escape the reifying power of the white male gaze. All they want is that sweet ass of yours. His words denote the primitive essentialism through which blackness is perceived in France. His eyes approved of me.
I was all women. Never before. There she was. The films downplay their critical edges by pointing out the unconscious participation of both characters in the instrumentalization of their bodies, ambiguously replicating the narrative and visual strategies behind the commodification of black female bodies. This assuredly diminishes her agency in life-changing decisions.
Because the motif returns constantly whenever Baker is involved in wider collective issues, it is difficult to decide whether her determination to fight the Nazis and combat American racial segregation is narratively motivated by guilt or by political commitment. At one point of the biopic, white journalist and columnist Walter Winchell Craig T. The artist is heard speaking only once about her experience of racism when she addresses a full audience and tells about her childhood in America ; a medium close-up zooms in on her face, cutting out the audience whose presence is in the form of backdrop noise, undermining the testimonial dimension of the scene.
And, as illustrated by the following extract, the black female character is eventually silenced by Winchell, taking advantage of his prominent place in the media to have the final word:. I want all America to hear me tonight. White America, Colored America and America that knows how many times Walter Winchell has gone to bat for better treatment of minorities of every kind. I am appalled at the agony and embarrassment caused to Josephine Baker and her friend at the Stork Club.
Yet, at this point of the film, her commitment to an integrated family is tied to her incapacity to become a mother. The enlightened spirit of the character, geared by the prospect of bringing her career back on track, discards allegations that the actress might have committed suicide with drugs. The two sequences rehabilitate the biopic subject by reconciling her private and public lives. The reenactment of the performance allows the filmmaker to reaffirm Josephine Baker's legacy in collective memory as one of the 20 th -century cultural icons.
Dana Heller contends that,. The fact that Halle Berry , Angela Bassett The Rosa Parks Story, CBS, ; Betty and Coretta , Lifetime, and Queen Latifah Bessie , participate in the production of films on the stories of lesser-known black women proves that it is possible to offer black women a less marginalized role in the cinematic representation and recreation of history.
Edgerton and Jeffrey P.
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