25/06/2016

Black Venus - Mensch?

Thoughts On: Venus Noire

I'd like to start by saying this film, and so this post, is not for the sensitive or the easily offended. It is not for those who don't like to, or have the inability to ask fundamental questions. Suffice to say, this is a film and post for the mature - the grown up enough to handle difficult social concepts and questions.

Select snapshots of the later life of Saartjie Baartment, a Khoisan woman who sought out fame and fortune with the use of her abnormally large buttocks.


This is, without a doubt, one of the most conflicting films I have ever seen. I don't mean conflict as in action and drama, or that it makes no sense, I don't even mean conflicting in terms of the film distressing me. This is a conflicting film as it has me fighting with myself. It's 2 hours and 45 mins, and I can remember almost every single detail from the very first time I watched it. It's unfathomably poignant, and, as a technical piece of cinematic art, astounding, moreover, enthralling - entertaining even. I of course don't mean entertaining in a light, action-packed movie kind of way. Entertaining as in it stimulates the mind, occupying your thoughts for hours on end. This is a film from the director Abdellatif Kechiche, who also made Blue Is The Warmest Colour - another masterpiece in my opinion. There aren't many similarities between the two films in terms of narrative. Blue is about character, about human emotion and development. Black Venus is much the opposite. There are nonetheless many underlying similarities between these two films. The first is the style of Kechiche, the length and according philosophy of pacing. Both films are very long and are full of drawn out, possibly uncomfortable, scenes. In Blue Is The Warmest Colour, those scenes would quite obviously be the sex scenes that I'm sure if you're sitting in an audience or with a few friends, or even worse, family members add up to... I don't know... a few years maybe? The same can almost be said for Black Venus, but it's not directly sexual content that distresses. It's most definitely the moral dissonance and outright awkwardness of the situations. However, I have no objection to these scenes because, firstly, I watch films (especially of this type) alone. I do this for both obvious reasons of awkwardness, but also it's hard to subjectively watch a film with other people around. It's almost like there's inevitably one viewer and one screen. It's an audience that sees a film, meaning individuals are effected (to varying degrees) by those around them. I'm personally not a fan of this for reasons we'll get into with this film. Nonetheless, the crowd is the stupidest person - that's what this film demonstrates perfectly in parts, and why seeing films alone is always important if you want to have a subjective, even objective, but ultimately genuine experience. Either way, let's get back on track, there's a lot we've got to cover with this film. Despite similarities and differences in the craft of Kechiche's two films, what ultimately brings them together is the liberal, or to put it better, tolerant, sensibilities of them. Blue is quite obviously about homosexuality - being a lesbian. Black Venus also has focus on the female perspective with ideas of race in mind, but is much more complex.

The complexity of Black Venus comes with its convoluted incorporation of history and reality as themes. In other words, attached to a narrative of tolerance is, as said, race, but also colonialism, capitalism, sexism, culture, religion, will, law, morality, responsibility and so on. In short, this is a film about what it is to be human in many aspects. Now, having said that there are themes of tolerance, which imply that there is an agenda, or at least an opinion provided by this film, it is a story shot and told objectively. In other words, there's a matter-of-fact tone about this story. For some, this may translate to a lack of emotion on behalf of the director, which implies a lack of sympathy. Arguably, this was done to show the lack of control Sarah (Saartjie) has, but I disagree. The objectivity of this film is what allows it to be so conflicting - so powerful. People love to be told stories with strong emotions, with obvious messages and morals because sometimes it's easier not to do the thinking. When it comes to themes such as gender, culture and religion it's incredibly easy to get very lost, very quick. That's why we all rely on external sources to inform us on what is right and what is wrong. That's why ideas such as feminism exist. It's a collective branch of beliefs with an underlying philosophy of equality. When you subscribe to an idea of feminism (in whatever form, shape, wave, whatever) you are making your life easier by having decisions made for you. In short, if you believe in the fundamentals of the feminist movement, for example, women should be able to vote, well, that's one less thing on the list. What you have done is said, yep, any and everyone can vote for who's in power. Now, before I finish this point, I'd like to assert that this kind of thinking isn't flawed or particularity faulty at all. So, if you think in terms of anyone can vote, you shut yourself off from a plethora of other questions such as, what about the stupid people? What about extremists? Why do we have a government? What are we voting for? What exactly is democracy? If you keep going with these questions you end up mind-fucked. This is why most people need core ideas such as freedom of speech, such as feminism, equality, law, religion. We just don't have the time to sit and question it all down to its very nuts and bolts. What has this got to do with the film? An awful lot. This is both linked to crowd mentality and how you interpret it. This is a story told objectively to hopefully mind-fuck you, to hopefully force you to seriously question some very fundamental and very scary concepts. To do this, we need to do a quick overview of the film's main events.

For a complex and lengthy picture, not a lot happens...

We open in Paris with a scientific lecture about Sarah as a Hottentot.

We then go back in time and to England where Sarah works as a freak attraction in a circus. It's here we find out she drinks and isn't entirely comfortable as she can't see herself as an artist. Eventually, herself and business partner, Hendrick, are taken to court for indecency and on the suspicion that she is being kept a slave. The case however is dismissed.

Hendrick meets a French man, Réaux, who introduces their show to higher society. In doing this, Sarah catches the attention of a scientist who wants to examine her. There is an agreement, but when it comes down to it, Sarah refuses to reveal her genitals (she has a rare condition - an extended labia minora) to the scientists. This is the breaking point for Hendrick who leaves Sarah to Réaux.

Réaux's show for 'higher society' intensifies, becoming very sexual, ending with Sarah having to expose her genitalia to a crowd, even let them touch it. These 'shows' don't go well, the business falls flat, Sarah's 'fame' falls away. She ends up a prostitute where she contracts a deadly disease which kills her.

Her body is sold to the scientists for lecture and exhibition.

The set-up, the lecture, is the pivotal amalgamation of almost everything conflicting about this film. In the opening monologue the scientist, Cuvier, makes an argument toward Sarah being sub-human or at least less human than Europeans. He does this with the measurements of her body, but more importantly, her skull. He compares her cranial dimensions to apes, implying that she is closer related to the likes of an orangutan or baboon due to her skull and enlarged buttocks. He rounds this off by bringing out the skull of an ancient Egyptian, making clear how it is more similar to the modern European than it is to Sarah. He then infers that she is of a different species, that those who created pyramids, that founded science, religion, higher society, are related only to those of European decent - making them a superior race. Straight off the bat, this seems deeply racist and by definition it is. Racism is the classification of races to distinguish superiority and inferiority (from Oxford Dictionary). But, is this a bad thing? The obvious answer is yes. But, only when you consider application of this notion. For example, to see that Europeans are closer related to, or are descendants of Egyptians, of a complex innovative society, and then you use that idea to justify the enslavement of non-descendants, black people, or those like Sarah - Khoisians - is, quite obviously immoral. On the other hand, and taking the given definition of racism, it's also racist to say that black people have the biggest dicks. How? You are implying that because of race a whole group are superior to others. However, this is assuming that having a bigger penis is better (to a degree, yes - I think most would agree). No one is worried about this type of racism however because it has no tragic application in history - whereas the idea that Europeans are of better society has been (colonialism for example). What this demonstrates is the toxicity of ideas. But, what happens when you stay on a conceptual level? Is it wrong to say that certain cultures are better than others? You could argue here that such a thing isn't quantifiable, and I'd have to agree, but if you look at the state of the world, it's clear that English culture is, and has been for centuries, dominant. Is this a bad thing? Well, there are of course horrific sides to English colonialism such as slave trade, war, apartheid and the suppression entire cultures - take South Africa as a relevant example to the film. But, there are positive aspects to colonialism in the advancement of society through industrialisation. However, what is advancement, what is better? Is it better for society that we have the train, that we have skyscrapers, computers, iPhones? From a modern perspective, the answer's irrefutably yes. What does this mean? Well, you could say that we got to a better place by making many mistakes, by maturing as a society and as a whole.

There are deeper questions however in the previous statement. What about the future? All of the greatest things humans have ever done are the product of tragedy, of inhumanity. The great pyramids where constructed off of the backs, the blood, the lives of thousands of slaves, as was the great wall of China, the American railways. Moreover, it took war to give us the atomic bomb, quantum mechanics, to get us to the moon, to give us computers. If you look at history in this respect, it's clear that greatness is steeped in destruction. Is it wrong to infer that complete equality, utter harmony, would have everything grind to a halt? Moreover, if destruction equates to progression, what are we progressing toward? Is it more destruction, the ultimate annihilation of us all? In this respect is society grinding to a halt ok? So many questions, I know. But are there any answers, any right ones? Whew... you're asking me? Well, what seems to make sense is a concept of scientific thinking, and it's with this that we can come back to the film and the racist lecture. Humans share a common ancestor with modern day primates. In a certain respect we are apes. And when you consider that all 'species' means is organisms that can interbreed to produce fertile off spring, maybe there is a wider spectrum of human than we commonly think. Does this mean we should treat each other differently? Don't be stupid. But, when you embrace ideas of difference, of inequality, you have data, ideas, information to work with. Let's construct a science fictional world for this next part called Tearth. If in Tearth there where scientist who studied genomics, embracing the concept of cultural difference, of racist superiority and inferiority, could they produce better humans? To clarify, could they produce humans that were smarter, stronger, more peaceful, more productive--AND THEN THEY RISE UP AGAINST US AND OH MY GOD!!! Yep, that how most science fiction goes, but what if we weren't writing an action/horror film with a feel-good ending? Could producing a better human species be in our future? It'd take a lot of humbling to let ourselves become obsolete, but would that not be the best way to build a utopia (if we could figure out how to do it)? These are all incredibly interesting ideas, but at the same time... fuck me, they're scary - especially when you accept that the process won't be smooth, let alone perfect.

There's something scarier than this though. What if this process of producing perfect humans is already happening? What if it's being going on forever? What if racism is in fact natural selection? Whew... that's quite the controversial statement, I know. I guess I'll leave it up to you to ponder that one though as we've still got a whole film to go through.

The key idea here however is the hole we just went down. It started with something obvious, a blanket, racist statement most people would just scoff at and ignore. When you entertain ideas, bad, good, evil, pure, you end up in interesting places. I mean, we could start from the top ten times over and fall down a different hole. What this shows is that personal thought is most important when watching this film. This is why Black Venus is largely unemotional, and recognising this the opening becomes something that is hard to hear, easy to dismiss, but something you could use as a larger thought experiment. And that's what this film is. It's a series of thought-experiment-provoking narratives with the end question being of humanity. There are then two types of sub-questions we'll have to look into over the course of this narrative. There's questions of internal humanity and questions of external humanity. By this, I mean the way we act and the way we think.

So, let's jump straight into things by looking at Saartjie Baartment's past (not forgetting that she was a real person). She was a servant to Hendrick Caezar in Cape Town, South Africa in the late 1700s/early 1800s


This is is incredibly important to understand because the film only ever implies this. When you keep Saartjie's past in mind, you can better understand her character and motive. Her real name is not Saartjie just as it isn't Sarah. Moreover she is repeatedly referred to as the Venus Hottentot. Hottentot is a Dutch word for the Khoisan people which means stuttering. This term was based on the sound of the native language of the Khoisan. (Click here for a sample).  The term Hottentot has thus evolved to be seen as derogatory - just like bushman. There is more to Sarah's past which is the subject of a lot of interesting research, but what this is all connected to is colonisation. In the 1600s the Dutch established settlement and trade across South Africa. This contributed to economic growth and societal expansion of the Khoikhoi people who were never agriculturalists, instead more like hunter gathers. However, over time this led to war, slavery, disease, famine and apartheid. This means that colonialism is a huge factor in South African culture, especially in the 17/1800s. Now, Saartjie was never a slave to Hendrick (though may have been to a Peter Cezar). Her lifestyle was however intrinsically bound to Hendrick. He was her only source of income and was the reason she moved to Britain to put on the act which led to her demise. Now, this is where the questions have to come in. The question is of external humanity and the behaviour centered around colonialism. Colonialism and imperialism are, looking back through history, not great things as they lead to death and oppression. But, let's stay on the conceptual level again. Is imperialism bad? This is a very hard question to answer as it is both separatist and all about unity. To understand this you have to consider the idea of societal progression. With technology and knowledge comes the ability to expand and travel. In other words we have boats, ships, cars, planes. With this comes the inevitable contact of people and in turn the inevitable contact of technologies, culture, knowledge and belief. The humanitarian thing to do when arriving to new lands with different culture, worse technology, less knowledge of the world is to share that. The separatist thing to do would also be to share that information (seeing people as different). In this respect the humanitarian thing to do would be to leave them be. But, yet again, this is a separatist idea - keeping people apart for a greater good. It's in this conflict of interests that we exist. The world, when we were all small groups of hunter gatherers who only ever saw 50 people in our entire existence was a separatist place. It was simple, yet a difficult living. A completely connected, completely equal world would have us all as one group speaking one language with one belief system, equal knowledge and technology, living in utter comfort. This may be what we are moving towards, but the transition is incredibly hard to make. And this is the world today. Since the the 1500s with the start of colonisation, or even further back with the building of empires (Roman, Persian, Bulkan) we have been stuck in a fight between the conflicting ideas of unity and separation.

What this makes clear is that equality is fundamentally anti-individualist. To be equal you have to be the same, you have to be one unit. Now, colonialism as captured by this film is all about a constricted sense of equality and unity. The external human behaviours here have to be racist, they have to have a clear idea of what is better for the human species. The social justice worriers of today are in effect behaviorally no different to imperialists. Moreover, this idea of control, of wanting to use others, have them believe in what you do is the essence of communication. We only talk to share ideas. We share ideas to essentially ask someone if they believe what you do. The whole point of this is to push our own opinion on others or have another person's opinion pushed onto us so we hopefully agree - so we grow towards being the same person. You could take the example of this very post. I'm only saying all these things because there is a chance that I could change the way you see this film, so you're viewing experience aligns with mine. But, let's look back to the beginning of the post where I said I like to watch films alone. There's a contradiction there, huh? All this cites is the truth that the greatest thing about communication is conflict - it's the debates we stay up for hours having, the conversations we constantly have, that we make and break friendships over - not exactly the end results of agreement or disagreement. Conflict isn't a bad thing in this situation, it's a feeling - it's the push and pull of social exchange. What happens though if we apply this idea to the film and colonialism? Well, what we get is a society of Khiosan people being coerced into European culture. On a wider scale you can see this by looking at black people in white culture. The most obvious example would be the whole concept of African Americans, but there's a better one. If you look at black people in Britain all you are really seeing is a British person. This is best understood by the way they sound. Black people in America sound like black people in America whereas black people in Britain sound British. Is this a bad thing? Well, I think the better question is: is multiculturalism important? The obvious answer would be, yes, as it's integrative - it brings people together. But, true integration boils a multiculturalist society, such as Britain, into a monoculture. Let's stay with Britain with a bit of current news - the E.U. I won't go into politics here, but talk about the idea of a United States of Europe. Britain has obviously voted against the EU, and against the UK being apart of a singular, larger country in the future. This separatist movement implies that multiculturalism to the majority of British people isn't that important - at least on as wide a scale as it could be in the future. It's this very conflict we see played out in the behaviour demonstrated throughout Black Venus.

Saartjie being dressed up as a lady and seen as a person in parts of the film, but at the same time revered as an attraction for her difference is the epitome of colonialist, imperialist, humanitarian, separatist behaviour. It's the precise conflict of equality and individuality. It's now then that we can jump ahead in the film to the court scenes where Hendrick is accused of indecency and exploiting Saartjie so we can move from the behaviours of colonialism and so on as discussed thus far to the thinking of it. As touched already on colonialism is all about being racist - though not in an entirely evil way. It's thinking one culture is better than another, but in the hope of reforming another - possibly transform. The criticism of this is encapsulated by the idea of white supremacy. But, the paradox of white supremacy is the strange and very passive/aggressive concept of white privilege. I'm not going to argue semantics here however. And this is because white privilege is nothing more than a word or thought tantamount to imperialist ideas. In short, to argue this idea that white people have it better is to suggest that we should all be equal, that others also need to have it better, or that white people need to have it worse. The paradox of this however is the idea of monoculturalism yet again. Moreover, this concept of asking for equality (we are and have been talking about present day for quite a while) is to push colonialist ideals, but also to push a communist concept of equality. It's this humanist, equality driven mindset that makes parts of this film so hard to watch. This is all about empathy. What you do is convince yourself that we are the same, the audience and Saartjie, and so she should be treated as we wish to be - an ancient idea that goes back to and past the bible an Jesus. The mindset behind all of this implies that inequality is driven by the monologue at the very beginning of the film. To not want equality, or to have separatist ideas (given this equality driven mindset and way of thinking) is to be racist, is to not see Saartjie as yourself. The inference here is that you see Saartjie as inhuman. This is why there is such an intense backlash to critique of many equality based movements of present day. This also is why liberalism under the interpretation of certain groups of radicals is anti-liberal, is regressive, is seen as anti-free-speech. The intention here is to colonise thought and monoculturalise thinking - to have us all be and think the same. That there is the biggest contradiction of many current politics. Ideals are anti-imperialist in terms of behaviour, but are pro-imperialist in terms of thinking. The questions that need to be raised here between the latter and former is: what is worse? Is there a difference? Do ideals need to align?

I won't give you any answer here, but instead move onto the next major theme of the film as to throw a spanner in the works. Capitalism. Capitalism is the sworn enemy of communism, as the Cold War would have us all believe. But, like equality and separatism, they are convoluted and possibly very similar ideals. Capitalism is a call back to simpler times - just as communism is. To regress as humans into our hunter gatherer groups we'd become more equal in that we'd be much more dependant on one another - communist ideals. At the same time, we'd move into a Darwinian world of competition. This is the world we live in today, it's money driven, dog eat dog. Equality's primary and fundamental goal is to destroy this concept of competition - it's taking the scoring system out of the little league games. But, to understand the true pseudo-conflict of these two ideas, of capitalism and communism, we need to turn to this film. Over the narrative what Saartjie endures is all for monetary gain. This is the largest negative and positive of colonialism and equality - it's the comparison of lifestyles. In short, if the Dutch moved into South Africa with strict separatist ideals then they would farm and take resources without acknowledging the native. This is arguably what happened to an extent, but at the same time natives would have wanted a taste of higher society, of a better life. This is why Africa, in parts, benefited hugely from slavery. It turned small tribes (those who traded and sold other tribespeople) into expanding societies with better technology (guns primarily) that made their lives easier. The same could be said for the Native Americans - European settlement gave them horses and guns. There were negative effects of this though in both cases. The Native Americans and European settlers annihilated wild life, driving American buffalo to extinction. In the same respect, African habitats were disrupted and in later years whole societies crumbled because of the new financial precarity - in other words they had something to lose.The same thing happened with Saartjie. She was given a taste of a better living with Hendrick in South Africa as a servant. This is not to say that European settlers didn't forcefully take away livestock and jobs from her and other natives, but, at the same time the Khoikhoi were, again, never agriculturlists - farming was brought to the culture with colonial reign. Nonetheless, it's not exactly colonialism, but capitalism that oppressed Saartjie. However, capitalism is just a mindset, it's an idea. It was truly hope that killed Saartjie. She wanted to be an artist, to use her dances and songs to make money.

It's acknowledging the capitalist mentality of Saartjie that we can see the convoluted nature of capitalism. Capitalism provides opportunity. In theory anyone can rise to the top in a perfect capitalist society. In fact, a perfectly capitalist country is perfectly equal in every sense of society - not economics. It's the hardest working that rise to the top and stay there. The question you must ask is if Saartjie, if we in the western world (America and the UK especially) live in a perfect capitalist society. I believe the answer is, around about, yes. This is only if you look at countries without moral identity however. To understand this all you have to do is look at something like football (real football - soccer). In the game you have tiers of teams that form leagues. The best are at the top. If you want to be the best team, you want to have the best players and so the most money. Teams aren't exactly fair things though, they aren't representative of a particular place and they don't stay constant. This means that when you bring in the most money by being one of the best teams you can pay to have some of the best player, hence stay at the top. This all, quite obviously, means that the game is kind of rigged and results in the same 4 or 5 teams winning year after year after year. This is capitalism in a nutshell. If you dismiss an idea of separatism, you accept multiculturalism (having anyone on you team, or even an idea of immigration) you then have the power to, um... be separatist. You can polarise the market, ensuring you stay at the top. This is the world we live in and it's hard to say if it's a fair game. It's easy to argue no, but only if you look at things emotionally. Having the top 1% stay the top 1% is tantamount to being tackled to the ground in a street fight and having your head pounded in until you die. Yeah, it's easy to say 'no, those aren't the rules, that's not fair'. But, you're only saying that because you're beaten. That's what dominance is, that's what winning is. Winning is smacking a guy down and keeping him there because you are physically superior to him. The exact same thing happens, but on a much bigger scale with capitalism. It takes a certain degree of dickishness to uphold this system and it takes a certain degree of humbleness to work under this system, but how is it not fair? Reality, the world, isn't constructed with law, humans make those things up, they're just words. What this means is that to exist in a capitalist society you need to be complacent with your place in the pond, unless you want to contest and fight everything to get to the top. Appealing to the idea that we are all animals, well, what is fundamentally wrong in that? To accept that idea you have to look at humanity as something you accept not construct - and that is the crux of this film. But, we'll get to that with the end.

The last major theme of this film is a segue from an idea of curiosity and science (both in behaviour and thinking) to individuality. Scientific thinking has been demonstrated, thus far, time and time again. Scientific thinking is inference, it's taking the world as is and deducing fact. However, there is conflict in scientific behaviours when you consider the scenes where Saartjie is being measured and the scientists want to examine her genitals. This is a core point that I don't want to complete just yet. Before that, I want to look at scientific thinking and how it affects the individual - Saartjie. For this we need to turn to the shows both with Saartjie in a cage, as a performer and later as a sexual object. What fuels these performances is curiosity from the audience. This is the core of all themes discussed thus far. Humans are a curious species, this is why colonialism, capitalism and so on exist. All these ideas are routed in a question of a better society - of progression. This means that the crux of capitalist gain, of imperial persecution can be traced all the way back to scenes like the ones where Saartjie is poked and prodded against her will. People are investigating foreign ideas. The reason why these scenes seem so disgusting is that we see objectification, we see dehumanisation. We've already touched on the truth of this though and it is linked to the opening of the film. Saartjie simply doesn't look like the English, and, as said in the film, it takes naivety to not recognise her as human. But, hold on. We've been over this. What exactly is human in terms of culture, in terms of species? That's a very hard thing to define, to recognise, to completely understand. To this day it is still hard to know just want human is. If you look at genetics and you see the varying degrees to which we are similar and different you can understand, when you get down to specifics, how hard it is to define human. As an example you can look at humans and Neanderthals. Most Asians and Europeans have 1-4% Neanderthal DNA. Indigenous sub-Saharan Africans on the other hand have no Neanderthal DNA. (From Nattional Geographic). What exactly does this mean? I won't make speculations as I'm not a scientist and we still have to finish the post, but this very much so convolutes the idea of species and human. All of this scientific poking and prodding though seems to dehumanise, segregate, marginalise. But, in truth it simply asks the age old question of: what is human? Which is indeed scary and controversial. Before travelling back to Tearth though, let's bring this back Saartjie and the scientists.

The question I pose here is: are these scenes as bad as the performance scenes? Just like the French naturalists and the British crowds, the scientists are curious, are mesmerised, are awestruck by Saartjie as this new thing (except it's more polite to say human). This curiosity, though unwanted by Saartjie, is contextually dependent. The shows with the British crowds were embarrassing as there was a large amount of eyes on Saartjie as well as a lot of noise and little respect. The shows with the French naturalists however were much more polite, but the boundaries present in the British shows weren't there. This is where ethics of decency conflict with monetary gain. But, what about the scenes with the scientists? They paid well, were controlled, respectful and safe (until the end where the boundaries where pushed too far). Again, the question here is, were those scenes really so bad? From my perspective, no. I, like most people, have been to the doctors before. When you're asked to drop your trousers there is an underlying fear or anxiety, but because of the professional context, everything is fine. This is an important and relevant question to ask because of what later happens in the film. Saartjie after refusing to be examined by the scientists falls into prostitution - not very respectful, not very decent and, yeah, no boundaries. Here a crucial question of responsibility is raised. Yes, Saartjie wasn't treated well in performances (being sat on, whipped, told to act like an animal) but those were performances. Moreover, she chose to and gains from these situations. This links into a huge tangent of capitalist manipulation of people, but we'll let that rest. There is however a definite element of pressurisation, of exploitation in the performances. She was coerced, lied to, by Hendrick. But, at the same time, she indulged in Réaux's advances, ending up a prostitute - something Hendrick wouldn't allow. So, who's at fault here? Is this a case of pride coming before the fall? This is where questions and biases alike really intensify. It's here were you must truly ask yourself if on an individual level, if you are a separatist, or capitalist, or if you appeal to an idea of unity, equality or communism - and to what degree. That's a difficult question to wrap your head around, but let's simplify it by asking about individual control. Yes, Saartjie was pressurised throughout the film, but she had the opportunity to walk away. Where to? Now, that is a loaded question. In fact, this is a question of one's pessimism an optimism. It's true that wherever she went she would probably face tough times, but that doesn't mean she couldn't have opened up her own business, ran her own shows. This doesn't mean that she couldn't have gone back home. This doesn't mean that she couldn't have overcome adversity. In the end, whether she could or couldn't have we'll never know. But, what is true is that she didn't try. How important is that?

And so, we come back to a question of individuality and responsibility again. Is the concept of conflict inherent not just to human communication (as explored before) but human nature and the way we live? Should we have to face adversity to find comfort? Should we be afraid of this? Whatever your answers to those questions are, you must ask how we then run our societies - which comes back to the core themes of colonialism, capitalism and science. This is what makes this film great. It's a culmination of questions that end here: how would you change the world around Saartjie? Should you? And this brings us to our final question. What is humanity? Is humanity something we should accept? Is it something we should construct? We (most of us) live in a capitalist society, we got here through colonialism. Should we change? Is experimentation important? And that's where we end. The world clearly has it's own agenda, which is why the film starts and ends with the lecture - Saartjie's body being taken. Does that agenda need to be fought against or worked with?





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