Wild and Untamed: Feral Benga ,The Folies Bergère star,Gay Actor And Nude Model

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Féral Benga: Cabaret Dancer Who Redefined Black Masculinity

Feral Benga who has starred at legendary Folies-Bergère, fled Senegal at the tender age of seventeen during a trip to Paris. Feral acted and worked as a nude model and later in life became a successful businessman. It is alleged that Féral Benga’s father who worked as a local employee of the French colonial administration in majority-Muslim Senegal, mistreated his son prompting him to flee. After two years of working as a casual worker, Feral auditioned for the Folies-Bergère. Born François Benga, he adopted the stage name Féra which means ‘wild and untamed’ in French.

In a line-up of black male dancers, he started off as a chorus boy after which he partnered with Josephine Baker of iconic banana skirt fame in duets. Feral even dragged up to impersonating the Black Venus, earning the title,  ‘the black Mercury’ or ‘the beautiful Negro Adonis’.As a gay black man, nobody expected Feral’s career to survive for a long time. Feral was erotic and exotic – a complete novelty! His talent, beauty, intelligence charisma, and hard work ensured he endured. Feral also posed for painters, sculptors and photographers.

As a coveted artist’s model artworks he inspired — Barthé’s sculpture;  the first African American art historian; oil on canvas by James Porter and photographs by George Platt Lynes who shot images during a time of rampant gay persecution. In 1930, Féral turned his hand to acting, featuring as the Guardian Angel in Jean Cocteau’s silent avant-garde masterpiece The Blood of a Poet. Cocteau very much appreciated the beauty of the male nude.

By the late 30s, Féral lived in an expensive apartment near the Champs-Élysées and owned a custom-made Delahaye convertible. As a French-speaking African and a gay man, Féral was in danger and went into hiding for four years thus surviving the occupation although his health was damaged. Sadly, Féral Benga died in 1957 at the age of 51 years.

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