The Best Picture win for 12 Years A Slave in the 2014 Academy Awards last weekend has not gone 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.” Also, 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.
Given recent developments around the commemoration of slavery in the Netherlands, it is quite ironic 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 his 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 was 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.’