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The Life and Times of Sara Baartman: "The Hottentot Venus"

A Film by Zola Maseko

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When 20 year old Sara Baartman got on a boat that was to take her from Cape Town to London in 1810, she could not have known that she would never see her home again. Nor, as she stood on the deck and saw her homeland disappear behind her could she have known that she would become the icon of racial inferiority and black female sexuality for the next 100 years.

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SARA BAARTMAN is the fascinating story of this Khoi Khoi woman who was taken from South Africa, and then exhibited as a freak across Britain. The image and idea of "The Hottentot Venus" swept through British popular culture. A court battle waged by abolitionists to free her from her exhibitors failed.

In 1814 she was taken to France, and became the object of scientific and medical research that formed the bedrock of European ideas about black female sexuality. She died the next year. But even after her death, Sara Baartman remained an object of imperialist scientific investigation. In the name of Science, her sexual organs and brain were displayed in the Musee de l'Homme in Paris until as recently as 1985.

Using historical drawings, cartoons, legal documents, and interviews with noted cultural historians and anthropologists, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SARA BAARTMAN deconstructs the social, political, scientific and philosophical assumptions which transformed one young African woman into a representation of savage sexuality and racial inferiority.

A telling and quite powerful film. It would be very appropriate for any class in the history of racism or colonial history."—American Historical Review

"An excellent film… I would recommend that it be made a part of the video library of African, African-American and Women's Studies programs. It is valuable for scholarly purposes because the issues of colonialism, racism, enslavement, scientific racism, and beauty standards are covered here in the story of Sara Baartman, the Hottentot Venus."—Dr. Miriam Ma'at-Ka-Re Monges, California State University, in the journal H-AfriLitCine

"Poignant, mesmerizing and informative." —Dr. Neil Parsons, University of Botswana, in the journal H-SAfrica

"Maseko’s film makes its case with poignancy and compassion; imaginative use of historical documents and artistic representatins, in-depth research and a wide range of contemporary expert opinion.” —Dr. Jane Bryce, University of the West Indies, in the journal African Studies Review

"The film attempts to change ways of thinking, to prevent the propagation of discrimination... it persuades people to behave in a democratic manner, and aims to produce new responses to racism: resistance instead of acceptance."—African Media Project

"Excellent…An important film that not only portrays the tragic life of an African woman, but it will force the viewer to consider many larger issues related to the treatment and perception of Blacks."—Anthropology Review Database

Best African Documentary, 1999 FESPACO African Film Festival (Ouagadougou Burkina Faso)
Best Documentary, 1999 Milan African Film Festival (Italy)
2001 African Literature Association Conference Film Festival
1999, 2000 & 2001 African Studies Association Conference Film Festivals
2000 National Women's Studies Association Conference Film Festival
2000 American Anthropological Association Conference Film Festival

53 minutes / Color
Release: 1999
Copyright: 1998

For individual consumers (home video)

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This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
African Studies, Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, French History, History (World), History of Science, Museum Studies, Race and racism, South Africa, Women's Studies

Related Links:
Filmmaker Philip Brooks: 1953 - 2003

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