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Film & Television

Black History Captured on Film: Josephine Baker – The Original Celebrity Reality Star

Josephine Baker used her life to build a brand, “her life was her stage.”

American-born dancer Josephine Baker redefined beauty as a Black entertainer in France during the roaring twenties, she created a brand around her persona and possessed control over her image. The Black Venus captured the essence of the French nightlife, with her famous banana skirt hypnotizing viewers across Europe.

She received 40,000 love letters and 2,000 marriage proposals, Baker was in high demand. Although her body was how she gathered the crowd, Baker captured their attention by her vivacious lifestyle up until her life ended on April 12, 1975. Baker made Black culture attractive, during a time where the collective community was considered unfavorable.

Born in June 1906 in St. Louis, Missori, Freda Josephine McDonald grew up in humble beginnings. She began touring with a dance group when she was 16, Baker eventually moved to New York in 1923, making her mark as one of Broadway’s Chocolate Dandies. There she became aware of her personal image and its charm on her viewers.

 A couple of years passed, Baker found herself performing at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in France. In the La Revue Nègre, she introduced her Danse Sauvage and stole the hearts of all French men in the room, in her time of fame, her legacy went viral, spreading across the world.

Besides her curves, dance moves, and “dark skin,” the banana skirt Baker wore during her performance was provocative and brought attention to a new fetish–the rear end. The skirt would see many different renditions over a 10-year span.

Baker was fully aware of the viewer’s desire of her, she intentionally played into the “exotic” fantasy that was growing around Black culture. Her consciousness was described as having a “third eye,” by seeing herself as a brand.

She sold ‘Bakerskin;’ a skin darkening lotion and ‘Bakerfix,’ a pomade that made a lot of her wealth besides her music-hall performances. Baker played up her “exotic” role, dancing with carefully placed necklaces and pearls, causing a scene wherever she went. When reflecting on her life, one of Bakers’ sons, Jean-Paul Baker said, ” Her Life was her Stage.”

French critics would define her style as “priminitive,” Baker responded in her autobiography. She acknowledged that she was tickled by the reports about her show, “Primitive instinct? Madness of the flesh? Tumult of the senses? ‘The white imagination sure is something,’ Baker continued, “when it comes to Blacks.” Baker was painted to be seen as coming from the jungle, but the American dancer knew she was from Missouri. (Rose, Jazz Cleopatra, 81.)

The St. Louis native didn’t hide from the injustices happening domestically and internationally, she refused to perform in states that had segregated audiences, carried out espionage activity for the French resistance, and hid Jewish refugees when they were under siege. Baker received French merit, which included the Medaille de la Resistance and the Legion d’Honneur.

Baker created her own life, living in a 24-room mansion with a pet cheetah named Chiquita. She adopted 12 children, each having a different ethnic background, Baker called them her ‘Rainbow tribe.’ She created a life of her own, her legacy and political influence continue to echo in fashion and the freedom to portray sensual personas in present-day; for example, she was the inspiration behind Rihanna’s 2014 “naked dress” Riri wore during the CFDA Fashion Awards. Baker showed the real power behind female celebrities taking hold of their image and narrating their own intimate stories.

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Film & Television

(Exclusive)’David Makes Man’ Star Arlen Escarpeta Talks Joining Season 2, Black Masculinity, and Working with Director Tarell Alvine McCraney

by Betti Halsell

No one could have painted a picture of Black masculinity more accurately than Oprah Winfrey Network’s (OWN)  TV drama David Makes Man. The series encapsulates the quality of life and its aftermath surrounding men in the Black Community.

Narrated through the lens of a brilliant male character, the audience digests a visual dissertation of unspoken experiences that shape young boys into men. Arlen Escarpeta plays JG, the younger brother of the protagonist. The Oath actor breaks down the message behind the series and the strength of silent love that happens within the masculine gender. 

David Makes Man first streamed on HBO max, but OWN has picked up season two. Director Tarell Alvine McCraney (Moonlight) grasped the eerie tones of movies like A Beautiful Mind and Six Sense, and concocted the internal struggle of a caged life as a young minority, raised below the poverty line. The viewers meet David (Kwame Patterson) as a young adult, a silent and solemn adolescent, but his thoughts are amplified enough to take over his reality. 

Jonathan Greg nicknamed J.G. (Escarpeta) has a different level of mental compression and unwavering love for his brother. He is the peaceful flute playing above the overpowering orchestra that is David’s mind. Escarpeta breaks down that love, and the slew of unspoken nuances that are carefully placed throughout the series, to alert the audience: more was said than just words. 

David Makes Man — 201 — “Barrel of Oranges” — Photo Credit: Rod Millington

David Makes Man is a story of a young adult with no visual assurance of making out of his situation alive, coming into the power of his mind, and then aligning himself with success. The audience has a personal view of one’s personal struggle with their gifts and the application of their power after it’s gained. David battles many versions of himself in hopes of finding peace in his internal war. 

JG (Escarpeta) represents another angle of warfare, one that includes him and his projection of life to other people. The local cop is currently at a crossroads in his love life. Catching up with an old flame brings out his organic nature. However, he already created a sanctity with his wife and teenage daughter. Escarpeta’s character is metaphorically facing a three-headed beast that breathes fire. Between his wife, daughter, and the old flame, someone is guaranteed to be burned by his next decision. 

David Makes Man so far has won the Peabody Award of Entertainment. Full episodes are available on OWN’s streaming service, with new episodes out on Tuesdays, 9/8c. 

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Film & Television

Sex and the City revival adds Nicole Ari Parker, Karen Pittman, and Sarita Choudhury

And Just Like That, HBO’s upcoming Sex and The City revival is bringing new characters into the world of Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte. Nicole Ari Parker, Karen Pittman, and Sarita Choudhury have joined the cast.

According to EW, Parker (Empire, Chicago P.D.) will play Lisa Todd Wexley, a Park Avenue mother of three. Choudhury (Mississippi Masala) will play Seema Patel, a single, self-made powerhouse Manhattan real estate broker. And Pittman (The Morning Show) will appear as Dr. Nya Wallace, a brilliant, yet challenging Columbia Law professor.

The decision to add the trio was made by HBO’s chief Casey Bloys, producer/star Sara Jessica Parker and showrunner Michael Patrick King. Bloys told TV Line earlier this year they did not want “to tell a story with all-white writers or an all-white cast,” and the creators “being very, very conscious about understanding that [the show’s] New York has to reflect the way New York looks today.”

The And Just Like That cast also includes Sex and The City‘s Chris Noth, David Eigenberg, Mario Cantone, Willie Garson, and Evan Handler.

The revival is currently in production in New York. HBO Max has not yet set a premiere date.

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Film & Television

Vivica A. Fox, Clifton Powell, and Christina Cooper To Star In Mann Robinson’s New Series ‘On Ten’

Atlanta, GA. – Director and producer Mann Robinson is teaming up with multi-talented actress and TV personality Torrei Hart on a one-of-a-kind drama series titled On Ten.

The series cannot be compared to any other show on television. The audience is introduced to Osaris Warlock, a gifted young man who sees the truest potential of his urban surroundings. He goes to business school to hone his innate ability to grow an empire.

The goal he sets out for himself is to turn his hood into the next Black Wall Street. He enlists his longtime girlfriend, Ebony (played by Christina Cooper), as his right hand and starts to buy the block back. However, The closer the couple gets to the goal, the more challenging it becomes. They both soon find out that you also have to be a killer to be effective.

Warlock’s master plan stems from watching his mother struggle with having a lack of resources, which fell adjacent to him recently learning about the massacre in Tulsa, OK. As a result, the young man is now hellbent on growing a strong financial structure for his community by riding the fine line between illegal and legitimized business practices.

NAACP Image Awards winner Vivica A. Fox was tapped for this project as Mayor Brown. Her schedule has been tightly woven, as she also headlines two FOX SOUL shows – Cocktails With Queens on Mondays and FOX SOUL’s The Screening Room.

Another heavyweight, ABFF winner Clifton Powell, has joined the cast. He will assume the role of Agent Morphan.

Talented newcomer Cooper will portray Ebony, Warlock’s girlfriend. This will mark her first official series as a regular. The actress is taking Hollywood by storm, working in multiple areas of filmmaking. In 2019, the Los Angeles native directed and produced South Central Love, a visual message calling for an end to gun violence – a cause close to her heart, as she pulled from her experiences growing up in South Central LA.

Cooper is also a model and entrepreneur. She owns a women’s wear collection inspired by her Jamaican roots called Island Gal

The cast of On Ten‘s debut season will also include Sean Blakemore (Motives), E. Roger Mitchell (Full Count) and Michael Emory, Reality TV star and attorney Phaedra Parks, Instagram influencer and entrepreneur Jayda Wayda, acting legend Darius McCrary, and many more.

Robinson fortified his talents as a filmmaker and is well known in the Black entertainment circuit for his most recent projects: Super TurntFruits of the Heart, and Troubled Waters (which aired on BET her & BET Plus). The director’s debut film K.A.R.M.A. was released in the early 2000s. Soon after, he dived into producing hit independent films and series. By 2012, Robinson began to put together the strategy to direct On Ten, his TV drama, in multiple locations – Detroit, New York, and Atlanta. 

Director Mann Robinson

The bulk of the upcoming series will be filmed in Atlanta, where Robinson has built a 20,000 square ft space – Mann Robinson Studios – a fully-equipped creative space, a central hub for high-quality projects produced in Georgia.

Robinson’s co-producer, Hart, who will also star in the series, has been building her career as a comedian, writer, producer, and beauty business mogul. She launched her Youtube comedy channel, “PrettyFunnyFish,” in 2012, which had rocket-fueled growth in popularity. 

Hart’s production company is vetted under the same name and captured the attention of business tycoon Russell Simmons. In partnership with Simmons, Hart has contributed creative content for All Def’s digital platform while starring and co-writing in her short films. 

Producer Torrei Hart

Hart also cooperated with Zeus Network to develop the raw and unscripted talk show Talkin Sh%t while simultaneously having a reoccurring chair on Dish Nation.

The upcoming TV series will not be Robinson and Hart’s first collaboration. Both have previously worked on a drama titled TURNT and its sequel, Super Turnt.

On Ten is scheduled to go into production this summer.  The dates of the season one premiere have yet to be disclosed.


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