Here's your first review of the film adaptation of the controversial bestseller by Dutch writer Robert Vuijsje, titled Alleen Maar Nette Mensen (or Only Decent People).
The film opened today in The Netherlands, with actress Imanuelle Grives (Dutch, of Surinamese descent) and Geza Weisz playing the leads.
As a reminder, here's the official synopsis for the film adaptation:
ONLY DECENT PEOPLE is a Dutch comedy based on the controversial bestseller by Robert Vuijsje. Starring Geza Weisz, Imanuelle Grives, Annet Malherbe & Jeroen Krabbe. David Samuels is from an intellectual Jewish family from the posh Amsterdam Old South, where he is often mistaken as Moroccan because of his dark hair. David is a remarkable man on a mission: to find a ghetto fabulous queen with great tits and thick buttocks. His parents and friends declare him mad, but David continues unabated. His search leads him to the Bijlmer, where, after some wild adventures he is left disappointed. Will David ever find his ideal woman - a large, dark sex goddess with booty and brains?
The book is said to have been heavily criticized and debated within the Black community in The Netherlands, which maybe shouldn't be a surprise, given the above synopsis.
Nevertheless, the film is now out; and we have our first reactions to the film, thanks to Shadow & Act reader Quinsy Gario, who attended a press screening for the film in Amsterdam, and wrote a thorough, insightful review of it, which I strongly encourage you to read below.
When the cast for the film Alleen Maar Nette Mensen (Only Decent People) was presented in 2011 it was clear that this would be racist spectacle. Alleen Maar Nette Mensen is the story of David, a young Jewish man who is often mistaken for a Moroccan and is thus in an identity crisis. This crisis comes to a head when as a child of the affluent Amsterdam South he decides to seek his ultimate other, a ‘big black booty ghetto chick’ in the Bijlmer, Amsterdam South East. In his search he meets Rowanda and her family including her cousin who shows him what it means to be a man, or in his case a black man. During this process he becomes estranged from his white friends, who at a certain point tell him that black women are for men who can’t get white women, and his parents, who sneeringly quip after meeting Rowanda’s family for dinner that the bottle of wine they brought along cost more than the weekly grocery shopping of Rowanda’s family. He meets other black women, among them Rita who literally changed her name so she can do an internship at his father’s magazine, and several who want to have sex with him simply because he’s a white man. The film ends with Rowanda attacking him and sicking her brothers on him as if they were dogs followed by Rita dating him because, besides being able to fit in the white magazine world during the week, she lets her hair down (literally) in the weekend and is as ghetto fabulous as Rowanda. She just knows how to conceal it better around white people. Racism, sexism, white privilege, white supremacist thinking, class based discrimination and cultural appropriation in an ugly nutshell.
To be clear, Alleen Maar Nette Mensen is an 89 minute assault and degradation of Afro Surinamese and Dutch Afro Caribbean women and men, the Bijlmer (the multicultural heart of Amsterdam) and their cultures. The film is bursting at the seams with racist and sexist spectacles. Fictionalized spectacle in and of itself is not at issue here, it’s the manner in which the spectacle is used to uncritically reproduce some of the most damaging historical stereotypes of men and women of color. The book although presented as a biting satire of stereotypes in the Netherlands was eviscerated by Professor Gloria Wekker of Utrecht University. When Vuijsje was called on his racist and sexist depictions in the book he kept reiterating that what he made was fiction and thus existed in a different realm removed from day to day reality. During one of the many debates on the book Prof. Wekker brought into stark historical relief that cultural production based on degrading black women’s bodies was not an ironic endeavor without material consequence. Vuijsje admitted not being aware of this but the damage had been done. That he failed to understand that what he deemed fiction was used as the basis for official policy was brought to his understanding but didn’t stop the rest of the country from devouring the book and making it a certifiable hit.
Tens of reprints and editions later and the book became a film adapation. Jeroen Krabbé, who most know as the villain in the Fugitive, said at the cast presentation that he found the book to be ‘an ode to the black woman’. After reading the book and now after seeing the film, it’s safe to say that Krabbé doesn’t actually know the meaning of the word. As Vuijsje was distancing himself from the reality that his book was creating in the minds of the average white Dutch person (like respected journalist Hanneke Groenteman who admitted to Vuijsje on national television that she didn’t know people really lived like that in the Bijlmer, a statement he didn’t correct), Lodewijk Crijns, who wrote and directed the film adaptation, did all he could to ground the film in reality.
The lowest of the low of such an instance was when he took a local television incident from 2009 and used it as insignificant and stereotypical Bijlmer background for a scene. The Bijlmer in the summer of 2009 was the scene of tragedy and loss of multiple young lives in broad daylight. In the incident Elvira Sweet, the former head alderwoman of the borough, was accosted by an irate young man who had just lost one of his best friends the day before. The local news station AT5 was doing an interview with her on the dire situation in South East and the young man objected to Sweet using the losses of lives for politics. The film turned the tragedy of lost lives of black men and the emotional public display of grief into background noise. Seeing this used in this way is all the more heart wrenching because while the whole movie indicts black mothers of being uncaring, ignorant, slavery obsessed and sexually depraved, the young man apologized publicly to Sweet after his mother told him to. To add insult to injury the young man has since gone on to score a national hit with his hip hop formation. His hit has now been used in the same film that depicts his display of grief and anger as a sign of a lack of civility. The politics of respectability rears its ugly double standard head.
The astonishment I felt when hearing the hit song after the scene, was the same when seeing various black actors on screen partaking in reenactments of racist stereotypes or degrading depictions. One such scene was when a black actress after attracting David through a naked webcam sex scene spits on her hand to stroke actor Geza Weisz penis because he apparently couldn’t get it up for her. In the film black men are shown to regard and promote women as objects to be used and discarded. Maurits Delchot, a rapper known as Negativ, plays Rowanda’s cousin Ryan who during the whole film only talks about sex, is having sex or is showing male bonding through sex with women. He is David’s guide through the supposed seedy underworld that is the Bijlmer that the filmmakers and writer depict. During one scene Ryan picks up a mother with her child in a stroller by whispering in her ear and dragging her out a store after she nods approval. Then they arrive at an open square that leads to cellars of a housing project. As they walk by a bag of garbage is thrown out into the square right next to them and explodes all over the child. Then they get in a cellar the woman bends over against a wall and Ryan pulls down the woman’s panties and tells David to stand in front of her so she can fellate him. All the while the child is in the stroller in the very same cellar.
And that's just about halfway through the review; as I promised Quinsy, I'm linking back to his website for you to read the other half of the review. So click HERE for the rest of the story.
Here's the film's trailer again, if you need to be reminded, or if you missed it the first time, so you have some reference as you read Quinsy's review.