WORD that megastar Beyoncé is possibly working on a movie about the life of Sarah Baartman has again raised the issue of financing of South African stories adapted for the silver screen.
On Sunday, UK tabloid The Sun reported that Beyoncé was working on the film portrayal of the “Hottentot Venus”, dubbed thus because of her large buttocks.
Baartman was taken from her home in South Africa in 1810 and was made to perform in freak shows in London, where her looks were considered exotic. She was taken to Paris, where she was paraded in a cage like an animal. She died in poverty five years later, aged 25, from an unknown infection.
Following her death Baartman’s body was dissected and stood on display for more than a century at The Museum of Man in Paris.
Following negotiations between Nelson Mandela and the French government, Baartman’s body was returned to South Africa on March 6, 2002. She was buried in Hankey, Eastern Cape, on Women’s Day, August 9, 2002.
On Sunday, Cape Film Commission chief executive Dennis Lillie said he had heard about the film project involving Beyoncé for the past “week or two”.
Publicist David-Alex Wilson, who works with local film-makers, said Beyoncé’s involvement in the project, which was quintessentially a South African story, was due to the difficulty local film-makers had when trying to source finance internationally.
“It’s the issue of money. It’s difficult for locals (South Africans) to get films made. That is the problem,” said Wilson.
Internationally renowned South African film-maker Anand Singh said he had also heard about the project, although he did not know much about the details.
“From a business standpoint, it’s sometimes difficult to get a film set up without having international actors to make the business part of it work. You can make a movie like that, independently as a South African film and have local artists, but it will be a film that will only have a narrow audience, primarily in South Africa,” said Singh.
He cited as an example his own movie Yesterday, starring Leleti Khumalo, about the Aids pandemic, which was nominated for the Foreign Language Oscar in 2005.
“On the one hand you support films which have the local content, and which is a story. But on the other hand if it’s a $50 million film, you can’t finance it with all local artists,” said Singh, who owns Videovision. He said “big actors” were needed to justify the budgets for some movies.
Film-maker Beverly Mitchell said the involvement of Beyoncé in the movie project about Baartman again highlighted the fact that South African stories could be conveyed only if told by Hollywood actors.
“It’s a very sensitive South African story. To have it vulgarised by Beyoncé, you can see what they’ve done to all the Mandela movies… On the one hand Sarah’s story needs to be told, but why not approach South Africans to assist in the making of the film,” said Mitchell.
She said Beyoncé playing off her image of being “bootylicious” would further reinforce the stereotype of sexual exploitation of black women. “With Beyoncé and the kind of videos she makes… it’s again the sexual commodification of Sarah Baartman,” said Mitchell.
South African film-makers were limited by budgets which were typically R6m per movie. If they wanted to go beyond that, they would have to seek funding in Hollywood, which came with conditions.
“Most of the (South African) movies being made like Othello Burning, Hard to Get and Happiness is a Four Letter Word are around the R6m mark.”