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Given its strong Jewish credentials – the film was financed by the Abraham Tuschinkski Fund, which was named for the late Jewish owner of a chain of theaters in the Netherlands – the Jewish community has treated the film as its own. This month, the social action arm of the Dutch Jewish Community, the JMW, organized a special screening for its members, complete with a Q&A session with Vuijsje and Weisz at a Touschinski theater.
But the film had a much broader appeal, which may owe to its exhaustive exploration of racial relations and class differences in Holland. By following a Jewish resident of a white neighborhood who looks like an Arab and lusts for blacks, the film took audiences into the often unseen precincts of Holland’s minority communities.
“The commotion about the book and the film is partly because they stop short of deconstructing stereotypes,” Wallet said. “They go through them, tell them as jokes. Some feel that this affirms the stereotypes and thereby undermines Dutch society’s aspiration for greater tolerance.”
Vuijsje, whose book generated significant discontent when it was published, acknowledges that racist stereotypes abound in the film, but argued that refraining from portraying black people negatively would have been racist itself, implying that that they’re “too weak” to be objects of ridicule. And he notes that in Suriname itself, tickets to see the film reportedly were sold out for weeks.
“The experiences described in the film and the book are semi-autobiographical,” said Vuijsje, who lives with his Dutch Afro-Surinamese girlfriend, Lynn Spier. “It’s not my diary. But it’s a story about what I saw happening around me. I wrote a book about racism; that’s very different from writing a racist book.”
The film also revives unspoken resentments over the role of Dutch Jews in the slave trade. In one scene, the mother of one of David’s black girlfriends confronts him over his ancestors’ role in enslaving the Surinamese. David responds by telling her about their experiences during the Holocaust, resulting in a surreal debate about which was worse.
“Of course we know Jews, some of them owned slaves.” Vuijsje said. “We see ourselves as victims, but some blacks see us as victimizers.”
Despite the animosities it addresses and resentments it may or may not stoke, for at least one person connected to the film, the production was a rare affirmative-action moment.
“I wanted to play the part because I come from a background similar to that of the protagonist, but also because of how often I lose good parts to blonde, tall colleagues,” Weisz said. “This time I knew they didn’t stand a chance in hell against me.”