27 February 2008 | tavm
The Josephine Baker Story provides nearly excellent depictions of her life and career
In continuing to review African-Americans in film in chronological order for Black History Month, we're now at 1991 with HBO's biographical movie, The Josephine Baker Story. Before going on with my comment, I'd like to mention that star Lynn Whitfield is a native of the city I now live in, Baton Rouge, La. As the title indicates, this TV film chronicles the life and career of Ms. Baker, who rose from poverty in St. Louis to become the toast of France. In between, she tries and fails to integrate the U.S. (at least outside of her shows) and adopts lots of multicultural children to the consternation of her second husband. That husband-band leader Jo Boullion-was played by the late David Dukes who I remember first seeing as the man who attempted rape on Edith Bunker on "All in the Family". Other familiar faces that appeared here were Kene Holliday-who I remember as Baker on "Carter Country"-as musician Sidney Bechet, Louis Gossett Jr. as army leader Sidney Williams, Ruben Blades as Count Giuseppe Pepito Abatino-Baker's first husband, and Craig T. Nelson-who I first saw in Poltergeist-as columnist Walter Winchell who contributes to Baker's decline in the U.S. I'd also like to note Vivian Bonnell as Jo's mother, Mayah McCoy as Baker at 8, and Ainslie Currie as Baker at 13. All these performances and especially Ms. Whitfield's are excellent throughout. The director was the late Brian Gibson who briefly married Lynn and later guided Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne to Oscar nominations as Tina and Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It. Like that movie, this one ends with real-life documentary footage. It's of Ms. Baker's funeral with her adopted kids attending. While I'm sure some liberties were taken in the depiction of Josephine Baker's life, the story flows so smoothly that one doesn't notice where those spots might be unless some viewers had read some of the books about her. So on that note, I highly recommend The Josephine Baker Story.