Osa Johnson’s road to civilization | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 1, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2050-0742
  • E-ISSN: 2050-0750



The self-described ‘motion picture explorer’ American Martin Johnson frequently cast his wife Osa (1894–1953) as the star of his African and Asian Pacific expeditionary films. Her appeal to audiences was evidenced not just by the media hype surrounding the features, but also by the many spin-off enterprises the Johnsons variously produced and inspired, from published memoirs to a clothing-line. Throughout the Johnsons’ productions, Osa performed a persona that fired American imaginations of what it was to be a modern American woman, significantly styling her body to fit the part. Set against the perceived ‘primitivism’ of Indigenous societies, Osa’s look took exaggerated proportions and she self-appointed as the leader amongst local women along a road to civilization, which ostensibly required the wearing of Western dress, styling and self-reflexivity.


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