×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Curacao

With razor-sharp irony, Dutch documakers Sander Snoep and Sarah Vos limn a damning portrait of the legacy of colonialism in "Curacao."

With razor-sharp irony, Dutch documakers Sander Snoep and Sarah Vos limn a damning portrait of the legacy of colonialism in “Curacao.” The slyly acerbic pic juxtaposes letters from 18th- and 19th-century magistrates and ship captains, matter-of-factly enumerating everyday horrors of the slave trade, with scenes of contemporary Hollanders wining and dining in gated communities; meanwhile, the faces of marginalized blacks silently confront the camera. This well-crafted study in cultural cluelessness should succeed on the fest circuit, but the absence of a hook could hinder wider play.

Curacao boasts no truly indigenous population, its natives having been killed off by Spanish explorers in search of gold and silver. Instead, the Caribbean island is populated by descendants of African slaves and of Dutch slave owners. The Dutch refuse to acknowledge this history: One man, puzzling out his black employees’ psychology, ventures the theory that “something is bothering them from the past.”

Obscure but fascinating archival materials trace a de facto colonialism that effectively defuses all threats of change. A 1921 letter from a Shell Oil director proudly proclaims that by cutting black wages, he increased Dutch salaries by 20%. A 1950s industrial film features a black man showering as narration extols the civilizing gifts of Curacao’s Dutch presence. Coverage of a violently suppressed strike at Shell in 1969 shows company and government officials answering workers’ demands with armed troops and barely disguised contempt. In present-day Curacao, the filmmakers frame silent black waitresses or bartenders servicing country clubs and golf courses, where racist remarks pervade the idle chitchat of the privileged.

The deep divide between white and black, rich and poor, saturates every frame, but nowhere does it play out as absurdly as in a Dutch supermarket’s attempts to motivate black employees. In mandatory courses for workers, management seeks to bridge cultural differences. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that accommodation is a one-way street, any understanding of Antillean values and customs only relevant as a means of steering workers toward adoption of Dutch cultural norms.

One especially eloquent black woman speaks of the mindset created by centuries of slavery and an education system that teaches subservience to supposedly superior Dutch standards; management responds that this inability to “get over it” is what prevents her people from “moving forward.” It never occurs to the bosses that their employees, who have no economic stake in a Dutch supermarket chain, where everything is imported and no blacks ever shop, might lack emotional investment in the company’s prosperity.

The racist attitudes on display are utterly familiar, though the openness with which they are expressed seems unusual for 2010. Filmmakers Snoep and Vos have skillfully painted Curacao as a colonialist wet dream, a bubble-like transplanted Dutch community set against a crystalline blue sea and sky that sees itself as untouched by racial and class conflicts.

Curacao

Netherlands

Production: A Zeppers Film & TV production in co-production with NTR. Produced by Frank van den Engel. Executive producer, Jorinde Soree. Directed by Sander Snoep, Sarah Vos. Written by Vos.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Snoep; editors, Denise Janzee, Snoep; music, Marc Lizier; sound, Chris Everts, Kees de Groot, Flamman. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Dec. 28, 2011. (In New York African Diaspora Film Festival; Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.) Running time: 75 MIN. (Dutch, Papiamento dialogue)

More Film

  • Black Panther Movie

    Oscars: 'Black Panther' Leads Best Picture Nominees to Near-Record Box Office Grosses

    This year’s Academy Award nominees proved the Oscars don’t need a popular film category to recognize movies with huge box office grosses. The 2019 crop of best picture hopefuls have generated an impressive $1.26 billion so far in North America alone. That bounty is led by “Black Panther,” which earned a sensational $700 million at [...]

  • oscar nominations 2019 stream online

    How to Watch This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Films

    The 2019 Oscar nominations have been announced, and if you want to catch up on the nominees, we’ve rounded up some easy ways to watch or stream the original films, documentaries, and songs competing for an award. Period comedy “The Favourite” and Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” lead the pack with 10 nominations apiece, while “Green Book” [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Makes History for Poland

    Alfonso Cuaron might’ve tied an Oscar record with four nods to his name for “Roma,” which scored 10 nominations overall. But another black-and-white film in a foreign language, Pawel Pawlikowski’s jazz-infused romantic drama “Cold War,” was honored with three Academy Award nominations Tuesday, the most in history for a primarily Polish-backed production. The film will [...]

  • BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

    U.K. Cinema Attendance in 2018 Was Highest Since 1970

    Cinema attendance in the U.K. topped 177 million in 2018, the highest number since 1970. Box office held firm at £1.3 billion ($1.7 billion) through the year as 10 movies crossed the £30 million threshold in the year. That compares with six films in 2017. After a sweltering summer in the U.K. and a strong [...]

  • ASIB Roma Black Panther

    Vote: Which Movie Should Win the Oscar for Best Picture?

    The 91st Oscar nominations were unveiled on Tuesday with “Roma” and “The Favourite” leading the way with 10 nods each. “Roma,” Alfonso Cuaron’s love-letter to his childhood nanny, is Netflix’s first-ever best picture nomination and could make history as the first foreign-language movie to ever win the top prize at the Academy Awards. Other best [...]

  • Göteborg TV Drama Vision Expects 60

    TV Drama Vision Set to Take Pulse of Nordic Commissioners’ Wish List

    More than 360 international delegates are expected at Göteborg’s 13th Nordic TV Drama Vision (Jan. 30-31) described by head of industry Cia Edström as a ‘boutique event’, where top Nordic and international drama professionals gather each year to gauge the state of the Nordic market and hot content. For the first time, to comply with the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content