THERE is controversy about a possible film that will feature a black South African woman, Saartjie Sarah Baartman, who died on December 29, 1815 after spending years in Europe, exhibited at Freak Shows in London and Paris.
Crowds were invited to view her big buttocks as though she was some animal in a zoo. Her brain and sexual organs remained on display until 1974 before they were finally repatriated in 2002.
Baartman is viewed today by many as the epitome of colonial exploitation and commodity racism of the black people
According to BBC, popular musician Beyoncé is said to be planning to write and star in the film, a matter she has denied, but this has, however, generated a lot of debate around the story.
Bartman suffered from a condition that resulted in extreme growth of her buttocks, and humiliation from these colonialists who turned her into an object of entertainment.
The BBC reports that the illiterate Baartman allegedly signed a contract with a ship surgeon, William Dunlop, and mixed-race businessman Hendrik Cesars, saying she would travel to England to take part in shows.
She apparently caused a lot of fascination at the famous Picadilly Circus where she was exhibited on stage wearing tight, flesh-coloured clothing, as well as beads and feathers.
Wealthy customers could pay for private demonstrations in their homes, with guests allowed to touch her.
Other reports also indicate that she allegedly experienced sexual abuse and probably suffered from various sexually transmitted diseases.
She was to move to Paris in 1814 and became an instant hit and became an alcoholic and was probably prostituted by her new masters following the return of Cesars to South Africa.
When she died at age 26, a cast was made of her body before it was dissected and her skeleton preserved and pickled including her brain and genitals which were placed in jars at Museum of Man in Paris.
These remained on public display until 1974 and after Nelson Mandela came into power as South Africa’s first black president, he requested repatriation of Baartman’s remains including the plaster cast.
She was buried in Hankey in Eastern Cape Province nearly 192 years after Baartman had left for Europe.
However, the question I would like to pose is: In whose point of view will this film be produced? Has her family been involved in narration of this movie or will it be some sensational productions that will draw crowds, wanting to see Beyoncé, who is a sex symbol of our time?
The story of this woman is no different slavery that drove Africans by force to work on plantations in America and hence Baartman’s story should feature exactly that and not some sort of entertainment feature to laugh about. It should follow the lines of Roots, a popular film that depicted how Africans were forced into slavery from West Africa during the Slave Trade era.
This is no doubt a sad story and a terrible example of colonial exploitation which should be thoroughly researched before showing on the cinema circuits.
Who were her family? Did she have any sisters or brothers? We have not been told about this and it is necessary that such information is first sought before a conclusive documentary is done on this poor daughter of the soil.
So it did really happen to a black woman? A woman who was hardly 20 years old who underwent such sexual exploitation and display like a wild animal because she was created differently from other people?
If the story is done in good taste, the film should go ahead and be filmed so that future generations will learn something from her experiences.
According to Identities Mic, some scholars argue that Baartman round posterior made waves through the 1800s and also inspired fashion in Europe later in the century namely the corset and bustle, which gave women thin waists and bigger butts.
“Saartjie Baartman’s body shape was viewed as ugly by Europeans yet later on the same body, though not acknowledged, was used to inspire the creation of Victorian bustle dress that resembled her body in every aspect,” Anne Mastamet-Mason writes in an essay in the Open Journal of Social Sciences.
And isn’t it amazing that today many women are spending thousands of dollars to have a posterior like the one Baartman had?
There are some tablets that are being sold illegally at some of Harare’s markets that are believed to enhance the butt.
Beyoncé is one such woman who has a posterior which many women across the globe yearn for and hence the reason she wants to act in the film portraying Baartman.
However, Beyoncés spokesperson has denied the rumour that the singer is making a movie of Saartjie Baartman who was a freak-show victim.
But whether or not Beyonce acts in this film, there has to be something done to ensure that this piece of history is turned into a serious movie because this is what happened to Africans at the hands of colonialists. This is history that will remain etched in the back of our minds for years to come.