Joséphine Baker, the first black star in history

Documentaire Josephine Baker

Granddaughter of slaves, queen of swing and queen of the Roaring Twenties , fighter who wore the uniform of the French Free Army… Joséphine Baker had a thousand lives. For Arte , Ilana Navaro signs a superb documentary on the fascinating fate of the first black icon. And reveals a sum of crispy anecdotes about the banana dancer.

1: Already a child, she loved to dance and have fun in the gallery

Born in Missouri, she was 7 when her mother sent her to work as a maid for racist whites. But little Joséphine is on the move, and has big ambitions. She learns to dance in the streets of Saint-Louis, the “ rubber leg ” dance that will make her a star. At 15, she tried her luck on Broadway. Her crazy Charleston seduces a producer who offers her a contract in Paris. The legend Jo Baker was born.

2: The darling of people

Arriving in France in 1925, she was amazed to be treated as an equal with whites. “ So this is freedom? ”. Star of the Revue Nègre at the Folies Bergère where she dances topless, she is the darling of Tout-Paris. She socializes with Colette, Picabia, Desnos and Cocteau… For Picasso, she is “ the Nefertiti of her time ” while the Surrealists worship her.

3: A real man-eater

A true tormentor of hearts, Joséphine has been married five times. At his hunting board: the writer Georges Simenon, who was his secretary. Her great love, Pepito, an Italian adventurer, will be her impresario and her lover for 10 years. She then married Jean Lion, a wealthy industrialist, but it was with Jo Bouillon, a great conductor, that she ended her days.

4: She created a range of cosmetics in her name

Did you know ? The black goddess was a beauty addict. In the 1930s, she launched two products in her image: Bakerfix, brilliantine to imitate her legendary hairstyle and Bakerskin, a tanning lotion. The elegant Parisians are crazy about it.

5: Spy for Free France

Like Mata Hari, a dancer like her, Joséphine was a high-flying spy. Her trick: she hid the German installation plans drawn in invisible ink in her scores and took advantage of her notoriety to pass the documents over incognito.

6: Blacklisted in the United States

In 1951, she caused a scandal at the Stork Club. The very chic New York club refuses to serve her because she is black. The next day, activists demonstrate in front of the club. The case becomes media. A case for communist sympathy is launched against her by Hopper, the boss of the FBI. Overnight, she is declared an enemy of the United States.

7: She is the mother of twelve children ... adopted


Long before Angelina Jolie, the singer decides to adopt twelve children, all of different nationalities, to show the world that all the peoples of the earth can live in harmony. She settled with her rainbow tribe at the Château de Milandes, in the South-West.

Find an extract from the documentary

Joséphine Baker, first black icon on April 14 at 10:45 p.m. on Arte.

Also discover The true story of legendary Hollywood couples and Threesome in the jet set .

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