Negrophilia was the surrounding phenomenon in Paris during the twenties. This fascination with Black culture swept the city and impacted nearly every aspect of social life for the average Parisian. A large contributor to Negrophilia was Josephine Baker and her infamous dances. Baker’s dance was both provocative, modern, and primitive. The dance jested at the concept of African culture. Baker’s dance provides an in depth definition of “Negrophilia.”
Andre Levinson provides a detailed description of “black dancing” by saying “…the Negro steps…is based on a direct and audible expression of rhythm.” Levinson goes on to say the dance is “all the more striking because of its rapidity and articulation” (The Negro Dance, 71). The exotic movements and exaggerated footwork was different from anything Paris had seen before. The strange yet entrancing nature of the dances entranced the masses and fascinated audiences. The emphasis on rhythm is a characteristic of what educated musicologists in the twenties viewed as Primitive. As the dance focused largely on rhythm, the work was gathered as something primitivistic and exotic.
La Revue Negre was an exceedingly popular ballet during the twenties of which Josephine Baker starred in. The ballet is a reaction to Negrophilia, as it purely focuses on “savage love.” However, the ballet, while popular. wasn’t taken seriously. Levinson crudely says “the Negro dancer or musician should not be taken seriously as an artist” (The Negro Dance, 73).
Along with reading Levinson’s book I watched the videos of Josephine Baker dancing and singing.
Baker’s dancing was large and flamboyant. Her movements are unconventional and also point towards the idea of primitivism. The video of Baker singing pictured her as an exotic bird surrounded by the “normal” white community.
I can honestly say that Levinson’s book and the videos of Josephine Baker extremely bother me. The racist connotations and stereotypes are overwhelmingly played on and black culture is seen as something wholly uncivilized. Negrophilia may have been a fascination of the “idea” of black culture, but the prospect is derived from racism. In my eyes, Josephine Baker isn’t being respected in anyway but showed off like a circus animal. I am being very blunt but I can’t help but feel disgusted with Negrophilia.
It’s true that Negrophilia was such a happenstance that Parisian culture was changed as a result. Just listening to the film “Midnight in Paris”’s opening scene, jazz music is being played. That opening song alone also expresses how Negrophilia forever affected the music world and French society. It’s hard to look back at the twenties in Paris and not be horrified of how black culture was portrayed.
This blog post has forced me to think a lot about racial tensions in the twenties but also in the present. I can definitely see aspects of Negrophilia in today’s society and knowing that leaves me without words.