Twenty years ago Lynn Whitfield captivated audiences with her portrayal of Josephine Baker, the first black international star in the biopic The Josephine Baker Story. The movie earned the actress an Emmy and an NAACP Image Award.
Nicknamed the "Bronze Venus" and the "Black Pearl," Baker was the first African-American female to star in a major motion picture and to integrate an American concert hall. She assisted the French Resistance during World War II and is the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de guerre.
BET News spent one-on-one time with Whitfield, 58, as she reflected on playing the role of an African-American Icon. (Watch interview)
On researching Josephine for the role:
There are very interesting things to read about her and even though her beginnings were in the 20’s and 30’s into the 40’s and 50’s there were news clips and movies -- I spent a lot of time with Josephine. I didn’t really want to interview that many people because everyone has their own lens through how they view people. I spent more time looking at her photos in the news clips and freeze framing and getting into her energy.
On filming the famous “Banana Dance:”
When we shot it I thought ‘OMG! I’m from Louisiana and I’m going to be topless and half naked. I hope my parents don’t judge me.’ And then in-between takes I didn’t want to put my robe on. It felt so good to be living through her experience. She wasn’t like in the strip club! She was more like Eve, she didn’t even know she was naked…like a beautiful tease. At that time she had to find the beauty…African art was just coming into Paris.
On being remembered for this particular role:
I think people think of me as the older Josephine because she was seemingly so touching near the end of the movie. I wish they would remember more of the banana dance (laughs).
Singer Josephine Baker and her pet cheetah in 1931. (Image: Corbis)
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