La revue negre: negrophilie, modernity and colonialism in Inter-war France
Journal of Romance Studies, 1, (2), .
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In 1985 the Paris metro ran an advertising campaign using an image of a young black woman dressed only in a skirt made of a fringe of yellow metro tickets. From a distance the tickets resemble bananas. The woman's hair is plastered down in a brilliantined Eton crop and her face is distorted by an exaggerated wide smile. The metro advertisement, framed by the caption 'Tickets Folies 2ème Voiture le Plus Célèbre Spectacle de Paris', recalls a time in the inter-war years in Paris when Josephine Baker was one of the most celebrated 'exotic' spectacles, both on and off the music hall stage. Although Baker subsequently went on to appear in a large number of shows, re-inventing herself as a 'grande chanteuse' and although her wartime work in France's Resistance earned her the prestigious Croix de Guerre, it is this image of Baker, half-naked, dancing frenetically in a suggestively phallic girdle of bananas, which has persisted in popular cultural memory. Baker was variously figured as the modern incarnation of Baudelaire's Jeanne Duval, the 'danseuse de bananes' who brought Le Charleston and the Blackbottom to France, the 'Petite Tonkinoise', Princess Tam Tam, and theatrical grande vedette, all performed against inter-war modernism and a spectacular mise en scène of the Second French Empire which had just entered its colonial âge d'or.
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