On the same day that The New York Times broke one the of the biggest stories of the year, they also made one of the biggest gaffes.
On Tuesday one of the newspaper’s theater critics, Ben Brantley, reviewed Venus, an Off-Broadway revival of the play written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. It chronicles the life of Saartjie Baartman, a South African enslaved woman known for her large buttocks and curvy proportions, who was forced to perform in side and freak shows in Europe in the 1800s.
Also known as the Hottentot Venus, Baartman eventually relocated to France where she is believed to have died in relative poverty. After her death, her remains were dissected and displayed as late as the 1970s as a curiosity for onlookers, MSNBC noted.
Pretty heavy and triggering, huh?
But for reasons unbeknownst to us, Brantley thought it was would be a good idea to compare Baartman’s natural physique and unthinkable predicament to Kim Kardashian’s allegedly fake rear, millionaire existence and white privilege.
In his opening graph he writes: “Attention, please, those of you whose greatest ambition is to acquire the traffic-stopping body of Kim Kardashian. There is a less drastic alternative to costly and dangerous buttocks implants.”
Oh, and the Times tweeted this:
Sadly, Brantley wasn’t done with his racial tone deafness:
He continued on how the bodysuit lead actress Zainab Jah (Eclipsed) had to wear must have been bothersome.
“To wit: the fulsomely padded body stocking that is being modeled with flair and poignancy by Zainab Jah in the title role of Suzan-Lori Parks’s “Venus,” which opened in a patchy revival on Monday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center. It’s doubtful as to how comfortable such a stocking is as 24-hour wear. But it has the great advantage of not being permanent.”
He then completely undermined the dangerous otherness and violence Baartman experienced by acting as if the enslaved woman’s body would not have been so rare in 2017.
“To contemporary eyes, Ms. Jah’s artificial figure doesn’t look all that different from the bodies of celebrity goddesses who populate People and The Daily Mail wearing second-skin dresses. One hopes that these women own their bodies — and their images — in a way that was tragically denied Saartjie Baartman.”
He also said that Baartman was “complicit in her own exploitation.”
How bout “hell to the nah”?
The lesson to take away from this play isn’t that contemporary women should love their natural curves and resist the pressure of going under the knife or being “slaves” to the need to conform. Better yet: What does KK have anything to do with anything? Having a big butt doesn’t make you a Black woman and we are more than our rear ends.
This powerful and disturbing story is about the dangers of the white gaze and what happens when Black women don’t have autonomy over their own bodies and lives.
Thankfully Twitter called Brantley out on his shenanigans and accused him and the newspaper of perpetuating the same ignorance the play critiques:
Guess the NYT got the message about their rancid Tweet and issued the following:
To which screenwriter and movie critic Valerie Complex brilliantly reminded the paper why diversity in the newsroom is important:
But in the end, the problematic review is still online:
Sigh. We just want to know who approved all of this?