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Denise Ward-Brown

Documentary filmmaker and professor Denise Ward-Brown directs and produces films that reframe moments in history from an African American point of view in order to ensure that the narrative in the American historical record and public memory is infused with multiple voices and perspectives.

For the last three years, Ward-Brown has been collaborating with Joanna Dee Das, associate professor of dance at Washington University in St. Louis, to create a jazz dance tribute to world-famous dancer Josephine Baker, whose talent ushered in the jazz age of the 1920s. Her current project, “Josephine’s World,” will be the fourth full-length documentary film that she has produced and directed.

“Never Been a Time” (2017) recounts the events, updates, and reframes the language of the 1917 East St. Louis massacre/pogrom of African Americans. Ward-Brown received numerous production-grants for her award-winning documentary “Jim Crow to Barack Obama” (2014) that features intergenerational conversations about the Jim Crow era between African American youth and elders over 75 years old. A Missouri Humanities Grant helped to fund “Home Going,” which honors the rich traditions of the African American church with interviews and traditional funerary music selections.

As an art-activist/educator, in the wake of the killing death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the subsequent uprising in St. Louis, Ward-Brown received WashU grants to design and fund two-video courses: “Tale of Two Cities: Documenting Our Divides,” which allows students to film nonprofit civic organizations in St. Louis, and “Filming the Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis,” that allows students to explore film/video as a tool in historiography

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Work by Denise Ward-Brown

Text reads, "Poet Laureate Eugene Redmond in still from NEVER BEEN A TIME" above a still from the video, in which Redmond wears a white shirt with ea blue vest and cap, under the floor of a wooden structure. There is a tree behind him.

Eugene Redmond Under Black Bridge, Never Been a Time film still, 2017

A portrait of a person (Grandmother Kennedy) superimposed on a landscape: there is a bridge in the foreground and the St. Louis Arch in the background.

Grandmother Kennedy @ Black Bridge, Never Been a Time film still, 2017

Text set in a large typewriter font superimposed on a landscape, in which a bridge is shown in the center, with greenery to the side.

Black Bridge with NewsprintText, Never Been a Time film still, 2017

Text reads, "NEVER BEEN A TIME - Poet CELILLIANNE GREEN", below a still from the video, in which Green is filmed in front of a spray painted brick wall. Green wears a white collared shirt, black framed glasses, and a colorful, cool-toned scarf.

Poet Celillianne Green, Never Been a Time film still, 2017

Text reads, "NEVER BEEN A TIME - filming poet jason vasser", below a still from the video, in which vasser stands in front of railroad tracks, wearing a graphic tee that reads, "NATIVE SON BY RICHARD WRIGHT".

Poet Jason Vasser-Elong, Never Been a Time film still, 2017

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J.WORLD STILL: Brian Scott Bagley with brochure from 1925, 2023

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Heather Beal Performing at Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 2022

(11/19/2022) This event at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation was inspired by their exhibition Barbara Chase-Riboud Monumentale: The Bronzes, which features a sculpture dedicated to Josephine Baker. The presentation included a panel presentation and discussion with Associate Professor Joanna Dee Das and Professor Denise Ward-Brown; a screening of a short film When You See Josephine, You See Her Mother, which was funded by the Pulitzer and featured the commissioned original choreography of Charis Railey; and an original live dance performance by Heather Beal accompanied by a speech recited by Sam Fox student, Jess Piard.
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J.WORLD STILL: Amariyon Green on piano with Charis Railey, 2022

When You See Josephine, You See Her Mother (2022) Watch here This short film was funded by the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and presented Choreographer/dancer Charis Railey, plays Josephine Baker’s mother: Carrie McDonald, who was famous for her dancing abilities. The archive contains only one sentence from a Baker biography that states she could dance with a glass/bottle on her head. That sentence is our jumping-off point for creatively imagining this world of ragtime and the blues, and of the dancing that Baker saw as a child and inherited from her mother. Further, we speculate that Josephine’s grand-mother gave the gift of dance to Josephine’s Mother and Aunt
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J.WORLD STILL: Charis Railey dancing. Jun Bae: cinematographer, 2022

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J.WORLD STILL: Féral-Benga Sculpture by Richmond Barthé 1935, 2023

The Dancer: Féral-Benga – Research Data (2023) Watch here

Filmed during my Paris residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts, this interview informs us of the in Senegalese born, Féral-Benga, a fellow dancer of Josephine Baker and a proposed subject within the documentary “Josephine’s World.” This is a informal low-tech video filmed while doing research in Paris, May/June 2023. Brian Scott Bagley, choreographer and Parisian dance-historian, expounds on the career of Féral-Benga. Included is a short impromptu choreographed dance from Bagley inspired by the Richmond Barthé sculpture and photos of Feral-Benga’s famous “Machete-Dance.” Féral-Benga, Josephine Baker and night-club owner Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith were an African diasporic, Parisian cohort. More video-time would have allowed Bagley to discuss the camaraderie of these dancers/entertainers with the many modern artists, intellectuals and writers who frequented their Paris nightclubs.