With the camera on safari in the Bijlmermeer

Even people who have never been there have an image of the Bijlmer. Usually negative. From the images on TV they know the walls of high gallery flats, gatherings of black people around fires in oil barrels, crime, drugs, homeless people, illegal immigrants, poverty. A no-go area. Gray, gray, hopeless.

That is not true: often these images are exotics, or borrowed from American films about black ghettos.

What does the Bijlmer (‘Zuidoost’ officially, ‘Bims’ for intimates) look like in films and series? Shortly after the Bijlmermeer was completed, she already appeared in a feature film, Blue Movie. This erotic sketch of sex from 1972, in which a released sex offender goes to bed with half the flat, is still 5 in the list of best-attended Dutch films, with 2.3 million visitors. Director Wim Verstappen wanted to show the new times of sexual freedom, and where better to do that than in the new gallery flats of the Bijlmer? The entire neighborhood was designed as an experimental new form of living. Striking: cameraman Jan de Bont does not film the flats gray and desolate, as was customary later, but bathed in golden brown evening twilight. And even more striking: everyone in the sex flat is white.

That would soon change. Later in the seventies, many Surinamese migrants came to live who were not welcome elsewhere in the city. The district now has more than a hundred cultures. From then on, the Bijlmer was almost always portrayed as a ghetto, with crime and impoverishment. Sometimes the neighborhood was portrayed very positively, especially in documentaries, with a lot of attention for colorful dresses, lively parties and church services, hip-hop. But here too, filmmakers rarely got past the clichés.

Bijlmer safari

A constant point of departure for films and series about the neighborhood is the ‘Bijlmersafari’: a usually white outsider discovers the neighborhood as a wonderful, exotic place. You can see that in Only decent people, a romantic-racist comedy from 2012 about a Jewish boy from Old South who likes black women because he thinks they are more primitive than white ones, with bigger buttocks, and therefore better at sex. In the Bijlmer he finds the liveliness, the wild parties and the sexual freedom that he lacks in his own environment.

The new series will be released at the Dutch Film Festival in Utrecht disaster flight premiere. About the Bijlmer disaster of 1992, when an El-Al cargo plane crashed into two flats. There you will also find a clichéd fish-from-bowl motif. Although the series partly revolves around a Bijlmer resident, the other two leading roles are white journalists who search for conspiracies and cover ups and in the meantime discover the Bijlmer as a place where different rules apply.

Also read a interview with screenwriter Michael Leendertse and actress Joy Delima about ‘Disaster flight’

That not all viewers can appreciate the exotic safari view of the Bijlmer any longer, was apparent from the fuss around The Tattas, a comedy in the pipeline for December. Even before a meter had been shot, the makers were criticized for the basic principle: a rich white family from the Gooi goes bankrupt and is forced to live in the black Bijlmer, with all the cultural clashes that entails. A kind of reverse bag. Under pressure from the critics, the makers have decided to set the film in a fictional place.

Gangland and basement box

To combat the stigma of the Bijlmer as a ghetto and to show the wealth of the neighborhood, the duo Karim Khamis and George Adegite released the report series last year Bims in the Lobby (VPRO). Khamis: „The image of the Bijlmer is super-stigmatising, almost always sensation, gangland, sex in the basement boxes. You also see this in hip-hop videos, often by rappers who do not live in the Bijlmer themselves. Everyone who grows up there suffers from it. You start to believe that you are less than other people and that the normal path – education, work, family – is not for you.”

Khamis has a much more positive view of the neighborhood: “It’s a mix, warm, human, lots of community spirit. You see that much less in other city districts.” He also sees the Bijlmer as an untouched treasure trove of film talent: „The Denzel Washingtons, Halle Berry’s and Spike Lees come from here. It is precisely here in the Bijlmer that there are stories and people that will appeal to a large audience.”

As an example, Khamis . mentions Into nothing, a gripping short film from 2013 about the Bijlmer disaster, about a twelve-year-old Ghanaian girl who befriends a grumpy, traumatized man (Issaka Sawadogo) – until the crashing plane separates them. A monument to the anonymous, undocumented victims of the disaster flight.

Horror film will also go to the Dutch Film Festival NFF Black Girl Magic premiere. Two Surinamese-Dutch girlfriends use winti rituals to hook a handsome footballer, but in doing so summon dark forces. The Bijlmer is indeed the setting of black magic here, but the living environment is self-evident and is not an exotic terra incognita for the white explorer.

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