Xavier Alum and filmmaker, Vashni Korin’s Documentary Highlighting the History of New Orleans Baby Doll Traditions Featured at New Orleans Film Festival


Vashni Korin was pursuing a journalism degree at Xavier University of Louisiana when a documentary film class in her senior year led to a student film project about Baby Dolls under the guidance of Dr. Vaz-Deville and Dr. Tia Smith. The project shifted Korin’s career focus entirely.

Korin’s interest in Baby Dolls led her to produce artistic films shining a light on New Orleans’ rich Baby Doll history. Her project entitled You Can’t Stop Spirit combines music, strong visuals, interview segments, and sound bytes to bring her audiences to the center of the rich history of New Orleans Mardi Gras. 

Historically, the exact origins of the Baby Dolls are not known. One tale attributes the start to a rivalry between a group of female sex workers who worked in Storyville and Black Storyville, New Orleans’ Red Light District. The rivalry is said to have stemmed from differences among black women in terms of their skin color, religion, and relative privilege of working in a legal district (Storyville) versus those who worked in the Black district.

Storyville women used the culturally sanctioned practice of settling scores through street-based performances. They challenged rivals in areas such as costume, style and dance; therefore, emerging several different groups of New Orleans Baby Dolls. Present day groups include, the Ernie K-Doe Baby Dolls, cofounded by Antoinette K-Doe, Eva Perry, and Jeannie Thomas; the Gold Digger Baby Dolls, founded by Merline Kimble and Lois Nelson; The New Orleans Society of Dance’s Baby Doll Ladies, founded by Millissia White to name a few. 

Korin’s film, You Can’t Stop Spirit, highlights several elements of New Orleans Mardi Gras traditions including Baby Doll history, Black masking, second-line parades, Mardi Gras Indians, the Northside Skull and Bones Gang, along with vodoo practices. The film provides insight into the costume designs and rituals practiced by the Baby Dolls in their celebrations on the streets of New Orleans. 

You Can’t Stop Spirit will be screened at the New Orleans Film Festival as part of a program titled “We Outside,” which includes three other film vignettes on political protests in Puerto Rico, Junkanoo parades in the Bahamas and Congolese wedding traditions. 

“I’m always so touched when something we’ve developed at Xavier serves to inspire and influence our students’ paths,” said Dr. Kim Vaz-Deville,  Professor of Education in the Division of Education and Counseling at Xavier. “I am proud of Vashni for bringing her work full circle with the development and creation of art that is important to her. That’s why we’re here-- to lead and guide our Xavierites in accomplishing their dreams and determining their goals. I’m eager to view the film and I invite all Xavieites to attend either in-person or virtually in support of her achievements.”

Korin’s introduction to the New Orleans Baby Doll traditions was inspired by Vaz-Deville’s research. She wrote “Baby Dolls”: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Traditions (2013) and edited the anthology Walking Raddy: The Baby Dolls of New Orleans (2018). More recently she co-curated “Mystery in Motion: African American Masking and Spirituality in Mardi Gras,” on view at the Presbytere through November 28.

You Can’t Stop Spirit has been shown at several other film festivals, including Third Horizon, Caribbean Tales International, Camden International and the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. 

The free in-person screening of You Can’t Stop Spirit will be held on November 13, 8:45 p.m., at The Broadside, 600 N. Broad Street. Tickets for both the in-person and virtual screenings of the New Orleans Film Festival are available here. Original article posted by OffBeat Magazine Online