Janelle Monáe to play Josephine Baker in the upcoming TV series


Josephine Baker’s performances buried any imprints that she doubled as a spy for the French Resistance against the Nazis during World War II. Her flamboyant costumes, bold movements and sways, and short, slick hairstyle guaranteed wild and revered entertainment, celebrated in foreign lands, but met with resistance in her homeland. A24 has stepped forward to pick up the narratives of Baker, dig deep into the highs and lows of her life, and air her biopic as a TV series titled De la Resistance. 

According to reports, the series will focus on Baker’s iconography as a jazz artist and performer and a civil-rights activist, and a key player in the French Resistance. Songstress and actress Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures, Moonlight and Harriet) will play Baker in the series; Chuck Lightning, Mikael Moore, Nate Wonder, Dana Gills, and Angela Gibbs will serve as executive producers; and  Jennifer Yale (See, Outlander and Underground) will lead the show.

Janelle Monáe to play Josephine Baker in the upcoming TV series:
Janelle Monáe to play Josephine Baker in the upcoming TV series: "De La Resistance"

In her Instagram post, Monáe expressed her honor and excitement in playing the role and called Baker her ‘hero’. “A dream role with a dream team! Mercí beaucoup! Can’t believe I get to honor you ‘Black Venus’ aka my hero, Madame Josephine Baker! I can’t wait to transform into the iconic performer, American hero, glamorous bi-con goddess, intellect, global humanitarian, and spy that is you, telling a unique story only a few know,” she writes. The actress and songstress even paid homage to Baker in her recent Met Gala look from Ralph Lauren, a dress that anchored about 36,000 hand-crafted black and white stones.

Growing up in a segregated St. Louis, Missouri and a low-income family, Barker - born Freda Josephine McDonald on June 3, 1906 - cleaned houses and babysat for white families who often poorly treated her. When she ran away from home at the age of 13, she worked on fostering her dancing and performing skills which later on paid off as she moved to Paris in 1925 and debuted at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in her first cabaret show, Revue nègre, at the age of 19, performing to the rhythm of Danse Sauvage while only wearing a feather skirt.

Baker’s grand introduction established her dazzling signature of zesty sets, sensual costumes, and jazzy props that accompany the vivid self-expression she identified with including prints of palm trees, colorful masks, whirling banana skirts, and her stage pet cheetah named Chiquita. Baker soon garnered attention from the public in France and skyrocketed as one of the highest-paid, sought-after performers in Europe, earning her title “Black Venus.”

Sometimes breasts-exposed, Baker’s soft eroticism on stage complemented her comedic, exaggerated facial expressions, the cherry-on-top that stamped her lasting impression into her audience’s memory. After marrying French industrialist Jean Lion in 1937, Baker applied for French citizenship, leaving the marks of her native country after people in New York had committed acts of racism against her upon her return to perform in the city. 

During World War II, Baker worked with the Red Cross and transformed her home in France into a hub for the French Resistance. She would even pass on secret messages concealed in her music sheets. Drawn from her acts of bravery, she received the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor awards, two of the highest military honors in France. In the 1950s, Baker actively supported the Civil Rights Movement in the US and spoke to thousands of people attending and watching the 1963 March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King. Once her storyline hits the screen with Monáe as her living embodiment, the show-bingers should buckle up for the ride.

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