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Bisexual spy and cabaret singer Josephine Baker is getting an A24 biopic

Janelle Monaé will portray the first Black movie star, who turned World War II secret agent for the French Resistance

Josephine Baker led, what some might describe as, one hell of a life. Born in a Black slum area of St. Louis, Missouri in 1906, Baker was married at 13. By 14, she was performing as a chorus girl and had become blues singer Clara Smith’s lover. By the time she died in 1975, she had picked up several husbands (at least one gay), and numerous female lovers including, rumour has it, Frida Kahlo and the French novelist Colette. She also had 12 adopted children. 

She had also captivated audiences in Paris; become the first Black movie star; marched for civil rights with Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.; and joined the French Resistance. The FBI had a dossier keeping tabs on her activities, and Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” 

Taking on the colossal task of portraying the icon is Janelle Monaé, who has been cast as Baker in an upcoming A24 series De La Resistance. According to Deadline, the focus will be on Baker’s role as a spy for the Allies during WWII helping to defeat the Nazis, as well as her experience “as one of the world’s most iconic, talents and glamorous entertainers.” Jennifer Yale is also on board as creator and showrunner.

In 1939, Baker was recruited by the French military intelligence agency as an “honourable correspondent”. Charming high-ranking German, Japanese and Italian dignitaries at embassies and nightclubs, she would gather information on them and report back. She housed members of the French Resistance and carried notes written in invisible ink on her sheet music and pinned into her bra around Europe. She was also recruited to be a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. After the war, Baker was awarded the Medal of Resistance and eventually the Légion d’Honneur by France in recognition of her work.

Currently there is no public release date for what is sure to be a gripping series. Fingers crossed, however, the following encounter, documented by Count Harry Kessler in his diaries, will be included:   

“Saturday, 13 February 1926 Berlin. At one o’clock … a telephone call from Max Reinhardt. He was at Vollmoeller’s and they wanted me to come over because Josephine Baker was there and the fun was starting. So I drove to Vollmoeller’s harem on the Pariser Platz. 

Reinhardt and [the other male guests] were surrounded by half a dozen naked girls. Miss Baker was also naked except for a pink muslin apron, and the little Landshoff girl [Vollmoeller’s mistress] was dressed up as a boy in a dinner-jacket. Miss Baker was dancing solo with brilliant artistic mimicry and purity of style. … The naked girls lay or skipped among the four or five men in dinner-jackets. The Landshoff girl, really looking like a dazzlingly handsome boy, jazzed with Miss Baker to gramophone tunes.”