About Terri Francis

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Terri Francis is the author of Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism (Indiana University Press, 2021). She is Associate Professor of Cinematic Arts and Associate Dean for Inclusive and Critical Publics at the University of Miami. Dr. Francis’s work centers on innovators and adventurers in film during the early 20th century and the early 21st century. Her publications in Film History, Black Camera, Transition, Feminist Media Histories, and Film Quarterly draw on archival research, interviews, cultural history, and visual analysis, as she examines the vicissitudes--less media reflections and more refractions--of black performance, film feeling, and black representation.

During her tenure as Director of the Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University, Dr. Francis secured the acquisition of the papers of African film pioneer Paulin Soumanou Vieyra. She engaged the BFC/A’s varied publics through multiple curated film series, including Race Swap, Black Sun/White Moon and Love! I’m in Love! as well as the speaker series Black Film Nontheatrical, which featured visiting archivists and their collections, and Before Representation in which scholars discussed the racial underpinnings of media formations.

 

With her leadership, the BFC/A forged new partnerships and instituted a program of visiting research fellows as well as an initiative to bring in curators to explore the BFC/A's holdings. The BFC/A's speakers' roster includes several prominent and contemporary scholars, film exhibitors, and filmmakers, including Allyson Field, Numa Perrier, Michael Gillespie, Crystal Z. Campbell, Maori Holmes, Cheryl Dunye,  Madeleine Hunt Ehrlich, TreaAndrea Russworm, and Blitz Bazawule, all of whom were brought to campus through vibrant collaborations with ARRAY, the IU Cinema, #DirectedbyWomen, and the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design. In 2019 she co-curated Rough and Unequal: A Film by Kevin Jerome Everson with Betsy Stirratt, Director of the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design’s Grunwald Gallery, and in 2021 they published Rough and Unequal: A Film by Kevin Jerome Everson, a reflective exhibition catalog of essays, conversations, and photographs in dialogue with the 16mm installation.

 

Francis’s upcoming projects delve further into Afrosurrealism and other forms of avant-garde expression.

About Josephine Baker

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Born in St. Louis, Missouri, June 3, 1906, Josephine Baker is perhaps better known in Europe where she built a 50-year career as an entertainer and celebrity, but she holds monumental significance for Black film history in the United States. After landing in Paris in 1925, Baker established her colonialist comedy-erotic repertoire as a dancer in the music hall and then transitioned to film in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Baker starred in four French productions: Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zou Zou (1934), Princess Tam Tam (1935), and The French Way (1945). In Josephine Baker's Cinematic Prism, Dr. Francis presents a critical reflection upon Baker’s multitudes and her cinematic legacy in (re)defining African American cinema through her global work as a dancer, singer, and film star. 

About Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism

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Josephine Baker, the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, was both liberated and delightfully undignified, playfully vacillating between forward-thinking allure and colonialist stereotyping. 

 

Nicknamed the "Black Venus," "Black Pearl," and "Creole Goddess," Baker blended the sensual and the comedic when taking 1920s Europe by storm. Back home in the United States, Baker's film career brought hope to the Black press that a new cinema centered on Black glamour would come to fruition. In Josephine Baker's Cinematic Prism, Terri Simone Francis examines how Baker fashioned her celebrity through cinematic reflexivity, an authorial strategy in which she placed herself, her persona, and her character into visual dialogue. 

 

Francis contends that though Baker was an African American actress who lived and worked in France exclusively with a white film company, white costars, white writers, and white directors, she holds monumental significance for African American cinema as the first truly global Black woman film star. Francis also examines the double-talk between Baker and her characters in Le Pompier de Folies Bergère, La Sirène des Tropiques, Zou Zou, Princesse Tam Tam, and The French Way, whose narratives seem to undermine the very stardom they offered. In doing so, Francis artfully illuminates the most resonant links between emergent African American cinephilia, the diverse opinions of Baker in the popular press, and African Americans' broader aspirations for progress toward racial equality. 

 

Examining an under-explored aspect of Baker's career, Josephine Baker's Cinematic Prism deepens the ongoing conversation about race, gender, and performance in the African diaspora.

TERRI FRANCIS