After coming under fire, a rep for Beyonce has confirmed the singer is not involved in a movie about South African slave Saartjie Baartman, a woman who was sold into slavery and forced to perform in freak shows around London in the early 19th century. Beyonce was rumored to have hired a writing staff and planned to star in the movie herself.
Last week, rumors surfaced the Beyonce planned to develop a movie based on the life and difficulties of Saartjie Baartman, who was a South African woman billed as Hottentot Venus at London freak shows in the early 19th century. Forced to perform semi-naked, her first appearance was marked by observations that the ostrich egg shells she was forced to wear as clothing failed to completely cover her naked breasts, reports the Daily Mail.
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In the movie biopic, Beyonce reportedly was set to portray Saartjie, who was born into the Khoikhoi tribe, also known as the Bushmen, around 1790. As a teenager, Saartjie was enslaved in Cape Town, and it was in this time Beyonce would portray the woman.
Beyonce was rumored to tell the story of the lawsuit Baartman filed during her life in order to obtain her freedom. In the movie, Beyonce wanted to tell the story that although Britain had outlawed the slave trade, but it was still legal to own slaves. Under British law at the time, Baartman tried to sue her master, claiming she was forced to perform against her will. The South African woman lost her battle and was later sold to a man in France. She died around the age of 25, reportedly due to complications from alcoholism.
During her life, Baartman was also passed around for scientists to examine, and after her death, her genitals were reportedly removed from her body and put on display.
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After the Sun reported that Beyonce planned to star in the film, the singer was criticized by Jean Burgess, the chief of Saartjie’s own tribe in South Africa. According to Burgess, Beyonce “lacks the basic human dignity to be worthy of writing Sarah’s story,” and Beyonce should not play the part, reports the Daily Mail.
The figurehead also questioned why Beyonce planned to tell the story of a woman from a culture that’s not her own.
“Why Sarah Baartman?” Chief Burgess queried, adding that the South African slave woman’s story was “not [for Beyonce] to tell.” The figurehead also claimed she “can only see arrogance” from Beyonce.
Burgess also said Beyonce should tell “a story about an Indigenous American woman” instead. Baartman’s remains were returned to her homeland in 2002 after an appeal by Nelson Mandela, who is from the same remote area as Saartjie. Returning the remains was largely seen as a symbolic gesture of cutting ties with the region’s colonial past.
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Beyonce was rumored to have started the project as an attempt at an Oscar nod, one award the singer, who has won an astonishing 17 Grammy Awards, has not yet achieved. The Sun, citing a source close to Beyonce, claimed that “[w]inning an Academy Award would mean everything to [Beyonce], and she’s a woman who is used to getting exactly what she wants.”
A representative for Beyonce has confirmed that the rumors are false, and although Baartman’s “very important” story should be told, Beyonce is not involved with any movie about her life.
Her rep confirmed to Gossip Cop, “Beyonce is not connected to this project, but this is a very important story to be told.”
Not every leader of Baartman’s tribe criticized Beyonce, however. According to the Daily Mail, Gamtkwa Khoisan Council member Kobus Reichert claimed that as long as Beyonce developed the movie “respectfully… with the right cultural understanding,” it might be a good idea. The council member also hoped the tribal communities “would not be sidelined” during production.
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