Steve McQueen and the Dutch
Chandra Frank | March 9th, 2014


The Best Picture win for 12 Years A Slave in the 2014 Academy Awards last weekend has not gone by unnoticed in the Netherlands. Not because of the thematic of the film but because ‘our Steve McQueen’–as the Dutch now call him–lives in Amsterdam together with his Dutch wife, journalist Bianca Stigter. So that makes this Oscar a ‘bit Dutch too.’

It was in Amsterdam that Bianca Stigter started reading the book on which the film is based (Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853) and McQueen started working on his ideas for the film. Dutch newspaper Het Parool claims the success of 12 Years A Slave started in the Amsterdam neighborhood De Pijp where the couple lives.

All this is quite ironic given recent developments around the commemoration of slavery in the Netherlands (read more about that here and here), that the Dutch would suddenly want a part of this.

I doubt if the same would have been said if McQueen made a film about the Dutch and the slave trade or if he voiced opinion on the commemoration of slavery in mainstream media. McQueen would have probably been told to “go back to your own country” and that the Netherlands’ history of slavery is nothing compared to America’s.

That said, 12 Years a Slave did leave an impact on some people. One of them being Paul de Leeuw, a leading Dutch comedian and singer, who until recently supported the blackface character Zwarte Piet. De Leeuw has even played Zwarte Piet on TV. After seeing 12 Years a Slave and reading the book, de Leeuw stated this week that we should definitely get rid of Zwarte Piet. ‘Hierarchies and domination need to disappear,’ according to de Leeuw, ‘and 2014 should be the year we start doing things differently.’

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Chandra Frank

Writes on feminism, slavery, colonialism and cultural heritage. Follow her on Twitter

20 thoughts on “Steve McQueen and the Dutch

  1. Or perhaps you can’t get over the fact that this black man is married to a Dutch woman, they have two children, and it was his wife who put him on the track telling him that ‘this story needs to be told!’
    Instead of celebrating the fact that this story came to life, after being buried for a very long time, in a Dutch apartment, the collaboration of a white woman married to a black man.
    Instead you are stuck on Zwaarte Piet.
    So who’s the smallminded bigot now? You are, ms Chandra Frank.

    • forget about the part we took in the slave trade….!!!
      lets keep celebrating the fact that someone from our land was part of the successful moving making business..!!…yayyyyyyyyyyyyyy..!!
      Thats another way of avoiding the reality ..!!!

  2. I’m not the author but yes I do think dutch people are racist and don’t care for their slave history past. #Proud Black person who saw and quickly left the Dutchies.

  3. as a living witness who gladly left the shores of Netherlands…knows with full heart that the Dutch are racist to the peak.
    Happy to leave …..never to come back again to live ..but to visit my old good friends….and never to forget to tell my experience in NL to my future generation.

  4. as always a great article from Chandra Frank. thank you, I’m grateful. the negative comments on this post and on Facebook are so very telling of anger and resistance anyone who talks or writes about Dutch slavery and/or contemporary racism receives in NL.

  5. It’s a kinda strange article, because the discussion about the history in the Netherlands is so vivid and lively and openly in the press, including the Zwarte Piet part and the parts about the Dutch share in slavery, in colnialism and about the influx of new-dutch from all over the world. There are many different opinions (yes, some are quite indifferent, racist or too pampering and soft) and I guess having discussions about this shows that there are different views. From the street, in the press in parliament, in schools and everywhere. Chandra Frank is putting it like ‘The Dutch’ are a big deaf wall of unwillingness to deal with the past, and embracing the cuddle-black McQueen as a national trophee. That is a kinda shortcut considering the debates. And true, if a guy like McQueen can use Dutch soil to develop himself to be a creator of his sort; that is a reason to be happy and maybe even slightly proud. If he is happy to be in Amsterdam, it means that the city is a good harbour for at least one talented person. So please Chandra Frank, do your homework as a journalist and get a nuanced opinion before shooting from the hip, it doesn’t really contribute much.

    • I personally cant deny that fact that NL has been a good soil for the propagation of anything due to the level of “freedom” etc since the 16th century.
      But the fact that NL seems to be free as claimed and purported does not make its past not tell on its future. …if you dont believe it, its is true that ‘The Dutch’ are a big deaf wall of unwillingness to deal with the past” ……Its like the Swiss claiming to have nothing doing with the slave history and hiding an achieve of their participation from the public access.
      ….If the Dutch are very sincere about their true history and feel bad about their past, their apartheid philosophies should have been eradicated in the NL of the 21st century.
      >I mean the NL where the word Zwarte school , Allochtoon …etc does not exist nor reflect in the present government policies.
      >Govt policies shouldn’t make black pple drop out of school (and publicize that they are unwilling or not smart) nor does courses like law and medicine be a lottery(where the government dictates who studies this and that)…. but on merit.
      >I am talking of NL where the celebration of slavery (Zwarte piet) should not exist.
      >NL where true freedom does exist and employment not based on colour.
      >NL where the police quota does not automatically categorize every black persons as either an illegal immigrant or a wanted suspect…
      and the list goes fort….
      If its home work… the guy actually knows what he was talking about….NL is got too good reputation on the outside for all this to be happening in such a very free country.

  6. “Chandra Frank is putting it like ‘The Dutch’ are a big deaf wall of unwillingness to deal with the past….” And she is absolutely right to put it like that. Yes ‘The Dutch’ are starting to have a talk about what racism is in The Netherlands and the priviliged position of white Dutchmen. But just starting and not aknowledging the role of the Dutch making the world as it is today. Or emphatizing with the vicitims and offspring of their colonial past. Wheter it is in the Carribean, South Africa or the US.
    Note: The Dutch government wants its Carribean citizens to be treated differently compared to ‘other’ Dutchmen starting this year, Apartheid is a Dutch word and yes a big part of the USA has its roots in The Netherlands..

    Check yourself.. And yes I am Dutch and zwarte Piet aint got nothing to do with this discussion he should just leave the party.

    • I love your comment….. except for that fact that you fell for the story of slave celebration.
      I wont blame you as a victim of diluted history….
      everyone tells tales….and so does the santa claus issue too is.
      making the Dutch Sinta klaas a reality sounds somehow…..
      and having a servant from (morroco,portugal,spain or wheresoever they told you zwarte piet is from), who goes tro the soot tunnel to share gift for those dutch grand fathers never should become black. but marked like an army on ambush….
      but i m sorry……………..WE pple of Colour……cant buy that crap…!!!….zwarte piet is a slave figure…. take it or leave it.

  7. Why should we forget history? Or deny our past?
    And why should Africa forget its history, when in West Africa around half the population were in slavery, even before the arrival of white men?
    Slavery did not originate in Europe; but it is partly true to say that it was in Europe that it came to an end.

    • I like ur perspective of the history….. Just wondering where you learnt it…
      The true account of an African history would be better said by an African.
      Imagine a German giving an account of the ww2 or the nazi regime…. The story will be a german story…. And if a chineese guy who is not there should write a story of Europe….quoting an african who came here for few days visit and wrote his impression about the pple he just met for few days…. Every sane person will know the account of the So called African history is not complete.
      It’s like the germans talking for the jews….. Why not let the jews talk for themselves?

    • Really came to an end after looting all the human and natural resources … And after the end of it south Africa became independently dependent in 1994 while all former french. Colonies are still ruled from france in 2014 …the typical Dutch person is full of denial

  8. Well dear readers here it is:
    But with the predominant bias exposed on these pages, you would probably argue that it must be a white man who wrote this?
    And that is what is blatantly racist – that the colour of skin or the ethnicity is what is important, not what is written or said or the quality thereof.
    When the Magna Carta was written, a large percent of west Africans lived in slavery-
    it’s been a long struggle.
    Now which year did Mauretania abolish slavery?

    • I came to your city i robbed and screwed you all and my justification is that you have been robbing eachother before my own robbery and atleast everybody stopped robbing you after i did.
      What a dutch justification of slavery; Several comments on this page even prooves that the pple of NL does not care about thier past but filling the gaps with excuses

      • There’s no justification for slavery. But if you want to go that direction, we all stand accused.

      • Getting to know the ancient khasso empire on the border between Mali and Senegal. These few lines says something about slavery in West Africa in those days, a widespread practice with few detractors.
        “Like the Bambara Empire to the east, the Khasso kingdoms depended heavily on the slave trade for their economy. A family’s status was indicated by the number of slaves it owned, leading to wars for the sole purpose of taking more captives. This trade led the Khasso into increasing contact with the European settlements of Africa’s west coast, particularly the French.”
        Please note that the slave trade predated the arrival of Europeans by centuries or more.

  9. Forget about the Oscar’s!…what about the public education system? It can easily be identified as
    “K-12 Years a Slave” in every city in this country. Watch this short film promo featuring 2014 Oscar Award Winning director and filmmaker Steve McQueen. Your thoughts?

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