Over the Rainbow: Angie and Jo
Is Angelina Jolie channeling Josephine Baker?
Is Angelina Jolie channeling Josephine Baker?
Okay, so there's Maddox from Cambodia, Pax from Vietnam, Zahara from Ethiopia, Shiloh from Namibia (well, born there, anyway), and now, new additions, twins Vivienne and Knox, born in France.
In less time than it takes to get an undergraduate degree, Angelina Jolie, with some help from partner Brad Pitt, has earned a way more impressive title--universal mother. Are visions of banana skirts dancing in your head?
Some see Jolie's transformation from Gia to Gaia as a clear reprisal of the role originated by fellow Francophile Josephine Baker, whose own Rainbow Tribe was assembled more than half a century ago.
According to the UK Daily Mail, Jolie spent her pre-twin time "resting and listening to songs by her heroine, the 1920s black American dancer and singer Josephine Baker who moved to France, became a French citizen and adopted 12 children from different countries."
Hmmm. The comparisonis, perhaps, too easy. For one, the Wanted star hasn't spoken publically about emulating the one-time queen of the music hall nor has she ever invoked the adjective rainbow in a good way. In 2006 Jolie told "Good Morning America's" Diane Sawyer that she and Brad weren't trying to piece together a "rainbow family," using the term pejoratively.
One can wish Jolie well. But if she is as avid a follower of La Baker as is reported, she likely knows that Josephine's rainbow was not necessarily one big, bright, happy family.
If you don't remember Miss Baker, your mother will (or definitely your grandmother). She's the woman who won over France in the Roaring 20s by first dancing in feathers (the bananas came later) in Le Revue Negre and later vamping it up with ballads like "J'ai Deux Amours."
Her career spanned almost 50 years, from her nude debut in 1925 to her death in 1975, just two days after a triumphant come-back. Still most remember La Baker first for her famously phallic costume and second for the band of brothers (and two sisters) she accumulated from across the globe.
Her children are as follows: Akio (from Korea), Janot (from Japan), Luis (from Colombia), Jari (from Finland), Jean-Claude (from Canada), Moïse (from Israel), Brahim (from Algeria), Marianne (from France), Koffi (from the Ivory Coast), Mara (from Venezuela), Noël (from France) and Stellina (from Morocco).
For a time they lived in a castle called Les Milandes (the Jolie-Pitts are staying in a villa). There Baker wanted to create a sort of amusement-park-slash-monument to racial unity.
In his biography, Josephine: The Hungry Heart, Jean Claude Baker (her 13th and unofficially adopted son) writes, "The question of whether or not she exploited the children is still being argued among those who knew her. When the youngsters were in doors, they could be observed through a picture window."
Jari, Josephine's fourth son, remembers "Maman" pushing the children out a little while paying visitors where at the chateau "so the people could see us." But only on Sundays.
Tabloids are reportedly offering Jolie and company upwards of $11 million for pictures of Vivienne and Knox. When their first biological child, Shiloh, was born in 2006, they donated the $4 million from People magazine to charity. They say they'll do the same with the twins' first public snap shots.
Jolie, who began her humanitarian work with the United Nations in 2001 and adopted her first child a year later, has called adoption "very special." "There's something about making a choice, waking up and traveling somewhere and finding your family."
In 2003, Jolie told the New York Daily News that her dream was "to have under one roof many different cultures and many different religions. I think that would make for amazing people." Still, she maintains that she and Pitt aren't adopting for adopting sake. "We don't just want to have different children from different countries. That's not the point."
Rewind five decades.
In Copenhagen in 1954, Josephine was 47 and on the last legs of her career at the time. (there would be several failed and successful comebacks). She was also lecturing at the National Museum in Denmark. There she gave a speech about the good and evil in people, and the mixed-race babies of "colored American" soldiers and German girls. It was here Josephine first hatched her plan about universal brotherhood.
She told the audience that she decided to "adopt my five little boys." Later it would become 10 boys and two girls.
Jean Claude Baker asserts that as her career wound down, Josephine's maternal instincts winded up. "No big contracts were coming her way, the Casino and the Folies no longer fought over her, she felt vulnerable to the future. Enter Josephine, the Universal Mother. If young men no longer wanted her, a brood of abandoned babies would make her feel wanted again."
Jolie is in obviously very different circumstances, and here's where the parallels collapse. If Angie has been channeling Jo on the whole motherhood vibe, seems she hasn't taken a que from her supposed heroine on sex.
Jolie has said more than once that being a mother for the first time made her feel even more like a woman. When Maddox was three she admitted to having more than one lover--"I'm an adult woman who uses safe sex and has healthy relationships with people I care about. Yeah, I have been married twice and now have these great friends who have crossed over into being lovers, and there is no reason why there can't be more than one."
Josephine had a different view: "At a certain age one should stop having sex." When La Baker became "Maman" she was done with conquests (of which there were many). She said her children would never see her with a man after she divorced their father, Jo Bouillon. "Never."
Is Angelina the modern-day Josephine or Josephine the prototypical Angelina? One grew up rich, the other in extreme poverty. One had a transformative relationship with her mother, the other's fight for a mother's love transformed her. Both had difficulties with the men they called father. Both threw themselves into the role of mother. But like I said, the comparisons may be too easy.
Maybe more importantly, while there are hints of political activism in Angelina, it was Baker's commitment to and work on behalf of the civil rights movement secured her legacy as an icon of the 20th Century. Angie? We'll have to wait and see.
Helena Andrews covers the nexus of pop culture and politics at Politico.com.