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Hottentot Venus 2.0?: Still Gawking at the Black Woman's Buttocks

by Ethan Tussey

by Alfred Martin for IN MEDIA RES

In 19th Century Europe, Sara Baartman, also colloquially known as the Hottentot Venus, was exhibited as a "freak show" where white Europeans marveled at the (alleged) size and shape of her buttocks. We can (and often do) wrap ourselves in the notion that stereotypes are things that persisted “back in the day” rather than hegemonically created images that shape shift and morph to accommodate contemporary needs (Stuart Hall reminds us that ALL stereotypes have a job to do). It is within this framework that the Hottentot Venus for the 21st Century reappeared before us on Saturday Night Live when media personality and musician Nicki Minaj portrayed the title character in the skit, The Bride of Blackenstein.

Clearly meant as a riff on Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, The Bride of Blackenstein (and Minaj by association), is reduced to the shape and size of her ass. While watching this clip, I could think only of the Hottentot Venus (although her "sisters" in black stereotypes are present: Sapphire is there with a side order of Jezebel.)

What almost makes one forget the touches of other stereotypes present in the skit is the incessant close-ups (and accompanying "booty pops") that reduce the Bride of Blackenstein to her ass, much like the Hottentot Venus. But what is most disturbing is the notion that the video clearly positions this round, black ass as outside the hegemonic construction of aesthetic beauty, but rather locates it within lust and sex. If the message isn’t clear initially, Bill Hader dons verbal blackface in order to drive the message home. He first expresses his appreciation for the Bride of Blackenstein's ass which is then juxtaposed against the ass shot of his wife (played by Kristen Wiig) with accompanying "sad" music. This helps us to epistemologically "know" that there is sexual currency within the Bride of Blackenstein’s ass. In other words, for white men (the largest share of SNL’s audience), women like the Bride of Blackenstein are who you fuck, but women like Kristen Wiig’s character are the marrying kind.

Saturday Night Live - The Bride of Blackenstein

From Saturday Night Live episode 13 season 36 (Host: Jesse Eisenberg) on January 29, 2011.

from Saturday Night Live (2011)
Creator: Lorne Michaels
Distributor: NBC
Posted by Ethan Tussey