I first heard of Saartjie "Sara" Baartman in college, in the context of visual representations of the Black female body and the history of racist archetypes used throughout American popular culture (i.e. "Jezebel," "Mammy," "Sapphire," and the "Angry Black Woman") and that have sometimes seeped into American social, educational, and political policy issues that impact modern African American women. Although it centers on the experiences of a young British woman of Caribbean descent, Candice Carty-Williams's recent debut novel Queenie, brilliantly exemplifies these issues of Black female objectification from a 21st-century, millennial perspective.
I had not heard of the film "Black Venus," though will now have to check it out. Thanks for mentioning it! Here's something about Saarjie "Sara" Baartman that I'd forgotten: upon her death in 1815, Napolean's surgeon appropriated her body and displayed her remains in a museum in France, where they remained until they were finally returned to her native South Africa in 2002. There was an article in The Guardian about it:
The details of Baartman's mistreatment are difficult to stomach, as her exploitation was truly heinous. Though it is so important to engage with history and critically interrogate the beliefs, practices, and norms of the past and allow that inquiry to positively inform how we understand the present and help us shape the future for the better. In that sense, I am glad that we are getting to see the playbills as they were at the time in which they were created. I feel it is necessary, and after all enriching, to critique history, but not to err on the side of whitewashing it.
The career of Ira Aldridge sounds similar to that of Bert Williams, an African American vaudeville performer of the early 20th century who, due to rampant racism in the US, was often the only African American performer on stage, and who endeavored to turn the stereotypes he and other African Americans were saddled with on their head in his performances: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/broadway/stars/bert-williams/.
I'll have to add the BBC's "Black and White Minstrel Show" and "Black Venus" to my TBW (to-be-watched) list, one that may begin to rival my TBR list! It is an interesting process trying to reconcile what was once regarded as "entertainment" with the realities of marginalized peoples then and now. One of my favorite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, "Swing Time," features a gratuitous sequence of Fred Astaire performing in blackface. Zadie Smith actually alluded to this exact moment in the film in her novel of the same name.