The Hottentot Venus, whose real name was Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, was a South African woman who lived during the 1800s. She became famous for her unusual coloring and “large buttocks” and was brought to Europe to be one of the attractions at a freak show. She was given the stage name “Hottentot Venus” because at the time, her tribe, the Khoi people, were known as Hottentots, a name that’s considered derogatory today.
— The 405 (@The405) January 5, 2016
Media reports from various sources, including the Sun, Complex Magazine, and Cinema Blend, have claimed that Beyonce, known for her power in the music industry, has her sights set on an Oscar and wants to use the Sarah Baartman story as her vehicle to get there. The Sun reports that the “Single Ladies” singer has hired a team of acting coaches to help her prepare for the role and that she also wants to have a hand in writing the script. Insider sources say Beyonce has been studying books on Sarah Baartman and is focused on doing the story justice.
“Beyonce is desperate to be taken seriously as an actress,” an alleged insider source told the Sun. “She now wants to write a screenplay that gains her respect – and hopefully awards – from the film industry, and thinks Saartjie’s story could be her ticket.”
But this doesn’t sit well with Chief Jean Burgess of the Ghonaqua First Peoples of South Africa.
“She lacks the basic human dignity to be worthy of writing Sarah’s story, let alone playing the part,” the chief Jean Burgess said in an interview with News 24 in South Africa. “Why Sarah Baartman? Why not a story about an Indigenous American woman? I can only see arrogance in her attempt to tell a story that is not hers to tell.”
Beyoncé to write & star in a biopic about Saartjie Baartman… but not everyone is thrilled: https://t.co/JXopGjtM4i pic.twitter.com/ozpQE1h4xF
— The Root (@TheRoot) January 5, 2016
That story includes a court case where Sarah Baartman, with the support of abolitionists, was almost able to gain her freedom from the freak show operator. As the Telegraph notes, Baartman lost the case when a contract was presented to the court. There are reports that she claimed to be happy to be displayed as long as she got a share of the profits. But few are sure whether she was telling the truth or lying under duress from her boss.
“Ignoring the fact that the KhoiKhoi is alive and that Sarah’s story would have an impact on how we are portrayed, is a mistake of great magnitude,” Burgess continued.
Sarah Baartman later participated in exhibitions in France. She died in 1815 at age 25 of an unknown illness. Her body was publicly dissected by Georges Cuvier and later put on display in Paris.
Her story has become a damning example of the callous way non-white bodies have been fetishized throughout the years. Many cultural commentators argue that the trend has continued today, as it’s still common to see voluptuous non-white female stars, like Beyonce, flaunting their assets for fame and fortune.
In an article on Jezebel, writer Cleuci de Oliveira explained that the Kim Kardashian “Break the Internet” cover for Paper Magazine was a modern-day example of Hottenton Venus-type exploitation.
“Like Kim, Saartjie (pronounced Sar-key) was voluptuous but tiny. She stood four feet, seven inches to Kim’s purported five-three. Unlike Kim, she didn’t just have her sizable assets in the way of talent. (Whether ‘balancing a champagne glass on your ass’ is a talent remains up for discussion.) She had learned and practiced multiple instruments in her native land (in what is now South Africa). On the stages of London and Paris, she regaled packed audiences with singing, dancing, and instrumental routines. When it comes to her contemporary booty-sisters, she is less Kim Kardashian, more Nicki Minaj.”
Beyonce, whose film credits include roles in Cadillac Records, Obsessed, Austin Powers: Goldmember, and The Fighting Temptations, has not yet commented on reports that she is working on developing the Hottentot Venus story for film.
[Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images]