This review of the film Venus Noir is written by Jan Robinson Flint, the Director of Black Women for Wellness.
I and several members and friends of Black Women for Wellness spent three of the longest hours in my short life watching Venus Noir at the Pan African Film Festival on Friday evening. It was a mini fund raiser for the organization, and in that sense it was successful. We had a debrief, unpack and let it go discussion immediately following the movie right there in the movie theater and that was absolutely necessary. As the was really movie long, perhaps with the intent to drain one of energy, spirit and personal/community power. Perhaps the length of the movie was to drive home the point of her reality, which ever we were all devastated by these 3 hours, yet Ms Baartman’s life was this misery and even with her death the exploitation and humiliation continued.
Quick Synopsis: Venus Noir is narrative film on the life of Saarjti Baartman, a South African women enslaved and brought to England & France to exploit as a circus act because of her heritage as a Hottentot woman. . She was sold by a South Afrikaner in 1810, to his brother who transported her to Europe with plans to exploit for riches. He in turn sold Ms Baartman to a sadist animal trainer who increased the degradation by exhibiting her sexuality with the voyeurism of an elitist class of Parisians. And in turn sold her to an extreme racist medical scientist and to a brothel who immediately expelled her after a routine testing for infections came in positive. Ms Baartman died alone, in a one room walk up in 1815 having sunk to having to sell her self on the streets of Paris. The animal trainer collected her body and sold her again to the medical scientist who cast a mold, dissected her body and displaying her at the natural history museum. Ms Baartman body was on display until 1974 (more than 150 years) . South Africa under the leadership of Nelson Mandela demanded her return however it took 28 years of negotiation and politics to finally secure her remains a proper burial in 2002. Currently there is a shelter for women and non governmental organization working with victims of domestic violence in Saartje Baartman’s honor in Southern Africa.
With that said, before I attempt to review the movie, please let me share a few tips on maintaining your power. Surround yourself with friends and family, there is nothing like a hug and the love that comes from being in the mist of people who love and support you for no reason at all. There are physical and spiritual hugs, both are needed, babies thrive with the power of touch and many times as we grow older we forget the importance of touch. When the system is robbing you of your power whether through a movie or in some other manner, seek/give hugs the physical ones from those who care about you.
Tip number two, music has a spiritual healing power, sadly the music industry is well aware of this however our artist and healers who are spiritual musicians have been able to record and get healing music in the world. Play healing music, let is sooth your spirit, let it take you to a calming space, let it empower you and feed your soul. When we are working hard, when we celebrate someone’s life, when we are building a movement, music is the tool that empowers and emboldens our energy and spirit – so use it to seal your power.
Back to the movie:
Venus Noir is a tortuous journey through the final 5 years of Saartjie Baartman’s life, it makes each point of exploitation in vivid detail that is drawn out to ensure even the most insensitive of viewers are aware of the humanity and dignity being robbed with cruelty from this woman. There is not one single redeeming character in this epic, not one friend, not one concerned denizen who takes a moment to offer a helping hand, a kind word, a moment of solace or a ray of hope. It is sad to imagine a world so devoid of humanity and a time where people are so self indulged. What makes it so much worst for me, not only is it a true story but I can see the ruminants of this time in our current time. When Justin Timberlake caused awardrobe malfunction exposing Janet Jackson, it was Janet Jackson who took the heat tough the world of Super Bowl fans were entertained. Thank goodness Diana Ross was able to somewhat check Lil Kim when she wore a pasty on stage. There are other examples: Nellie’s video Tip Drill, Halle’s Berry did not win an Oscar until a rape scene with a prison guard and Yahima Torres (the actress who portrayed Saartje Baartman).
In 2012 Black women are still exploited, swindled, robbed of humanity and spirit for the entertainment of society. However Venus Noir is not about the images of Black women, it is about the inhumanity of white men, it is about the debauchery of the British and French, it is a glimpse into European society and culture that devalues women in general and Black women in specific. It almost portrays Ms Baartman as a willing participant in her own enslavement and humiliation, almost. She is shown smoking to tune out, drinking to numb the pain and holding on through tears, as best she can to maintain her personhood.
Back to Tools for watching movies that rob you of power and energy:
After watching this movie I made the comment, I needed a drink. One of the young men attending withBlack Women for Wellness shared that if I decided to have a drink, I should make sure I have an accountability person with me given what happen when Saartje Baartman drank and all the bad things that can happen when one decides one needs a drink.
An accountability person, one who is able to not only speak truth to you but watch your back is invaluable. An accountability person in the movie with you to check the feeling and reality is critical.
If you must see this film, take friends (yes more than one) a discussion group to re energize and re claim your power, plan the time for the discussion where that happens immediately after seeing the movie. There is a concept called effective kinship, meaning that all the negative Black folks do, the Blackcommunity in general takes kinship to yet while the good Black folks do are attributable to the exception rule. We have Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Susan Rice (United Nations), Regina Benjamin (US Surgeon General), Lisa Jackson (Environmental Protection Agency), Ophra Winfrey, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf President of Liberia), Leymoh Gbowee (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) and our mothers, aunties and sisters. Thank goodness for these sisters who demand dignity and model humanity for all of us and thank goodness this short list is does not even begin to exhaust the energy and spirit of Black women. The cruelty that murdered Saartje Baartman within 5 years should not be an effective kinship Black women seeing the film take home.
One woman in our discussion mentioned that the French film makers thought Americans could not make a film like this, too long, too pornographic, too brutally honest and certainly not a happy ending. I agree, it is a brutally honest portrayal of Saartje Baartman’s life. However I have not decided whether this investment in time and brutality is worth the lesson it teaches. I would not screen this for children or young adults. Perhaps for those who are entertaining the thought of becoming an entertainer, or who need vivid depictions of racism, debauchery, inhumanity and exploitation. You know the ones who simply are not willing to take off blinders to the legacy of slavery, oppression and how it impacts our current life.
Finally, a word about prayer, prayer demands action, knowledge of spirit demands action and is not passive by any means. So when one of our audience participants recommended prayer after this movie, the much-needed addendum is pray in community with people who are willing and able to take action toward changing the world. Praying alone continues the isolation and isolation drains power, energy and spirit. If you simply pray, it may not be enough to chase the thoughts and demons this movie could bring. Join a movement that is about building resources, empowering women & girls, contributing to our culture and strengthening communion with the people in our communities. That will give you strength, make you feel better and is a much more rewarding way to spend time (and money).