JOHANNESBURG — The life story of Sarah Baartman, the “Hottentot Venus” who was taken from South Africa and put on display in Europe during the 19th century as a sexual freak, is to be made into a feature film.
Feature is a joint project of Zola Maseko, who won a special jury award in the short film category at the Fespaco Pan-African Film Festival in Ouagadougou in February for “A Drink in the Passage,” and producer Shan Moodley (“Quest for Love,” “The Making of a Mahatma”).
Baartman was a Khoisan, one of South Africa’s indigenous groups, born in 1789. In 1810, after convincing her she could make a fortune there, a British ship’s doctor took her to London, where she was paraded as a savage and forced to show off her protruding posterior and her outsized genitals.
After moving to Paris, Baartman drifted into prostitution and died in poverty in 1816. Following her death, her dissected and preserved genitalia and brain were put on display in a museum until 1974.
The descendants of the Khoisan people demanded the return of Baartman’s remains. A French act of Parliament in February 2002 finally made this possible and on Aug. 9, 2002, her remains were laid to rest at her birthplace of Kouga in the Eastern Cape.
Moodley first became fascinated by Baartman’s story when, as chairman of the Sithengi Southern African Film & Television Market in 1998, he presented Maseko with the newcomer and documentary awards for his production of a docu on Baartman.
For Maseko, directing a feature on Baartman is the culmination of a 10-year dream. Meanwhile, Maseko, pursued his interest in her life with two docs: “The Life and Times of Sarah Baartman” (1998) and “The Return of Sarah Baartman” (2003).
The publicity surrounding the return and interment of her remains in 2002 re-awakened interest not only in Baartman, but in the Khoisan people as well, in Europe, the U.S. and South Africa.
The project is still in the early stages of development, with Moodley looking to raise the finance for the estimated budget of $8 million-$10 million in Europe and South Africa. “A three-way co-production with South Africa, Britain and France is possible,” he said, “since filming will take place in London, Paris and South Africa.”