Reports that Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is writing and starring in a film about African woman Saartjie Baartman (whose bottom became world-famous in the 19th century) have caused an immediate uproar.
True, her turn in Austin Powers didn’t have the gravitas she was after. She was overshadowed in Dreamgirls by Jennifer Hudson. Her portrayal of herself in her autobiographical documentary Life is but a Dream was described as “wooden at best” (ok, that was by me).
Beyoncé is after a meaty role. And according to reports, she has found one in the brief and tragic life of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, a South African woman from the Khoikhoi tribe who was smuggled from her homeland to perform in a travelling freak-show in London in the 1800s.
Baartman’s large buttocks were put on display for gawking crowds and she was renamed the Hottentot Venus.
Beyoncé’s desire to play Baartman was first reported, with much punning, by The Sun.
“Beyonce is desperate to be taken seriously as an actress. Even though she’s had a string of well-received movies, she still feels her breakthrough role is yet to come,” The Sun‘s source said.
“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.
“Winning an Academy Award would mean everything to her, and she’s a woman who is used to getting exactly what she wants.”
Baartman died in Paris aged just 25 from alcoholism and illness. After her death, Baartman’s genitals were removed and put on display at the Natural History Museum in Paris and casts of her body remained on display until the 1970s.
Her remains weren’t repatriated to South Africa until eight years after Nelson Mandela requested their return from France.
Many critics strongly believe the Bootylicious One is the wrong choice for such a role.
“She lacks the basic human dignity to be worthy of writing Sarah’s story, let alone playing the part,” chief of the Ghonaqua First Peoples, Jean Burgess, told Times Live.
“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.
“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’s reps have immediately fired back, denying that the singer is writing a film about Baartman.
“Beyoncé is in no way tied to this project. This is an important story that should be told, however.”
To the surprise of no one that knows to never trust The Sun, Beyoncé is not tied to a film about Saartjie Baartman: https://t.co/uFs2bOScQC
— Michael Arceneaux (@youngsinick) January 5, 2016
In a time when the female bottom is more displayed, commented upon, commodified, and sought after than ever before, the story of Baartman would indeed make for a fascinating film.
“She had enormous skills,” says Tamar Garb, professor of art history at University College London and a native of South Africa, told Jezebel.
“She spoke many languages — Dutch, English, some French, and her maternal tongue. She was very literate and sophisticated. The show she put on was very much a performance, even if the role she was required to play was that of a ‘savage’ femininity.”