Skip to content

Three generations on the representation of Black identity in Dutch cinema

In the context of the Black Light programme, filmmakers Ivan Barbosa and Roelof Jan Minneboo started an ongoing research project to delve deeper into the portrayal of Black identity in Dutch cinema. They spoke with three successful, prominent Black Dutch actors, of different generations, about their experiences in the Dutch film and television world: Jack Monkau (1939), Kenneth Herdigein (1959) and Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing (1987).

By Eye Editors07 November 2022

"I am Roelof Jan Minneboo, historian and screenwriter, but also an educator in the field of our history of colonialism and slavery and its effects on today's society. As part of Eye's Black Light programme, together with Ivan Barbosa, I conducted research into Black people in Dutch cinema: what roles do they play, and what stories are told about them? Due to the pandemic, the programme fell through. In this short series we do it again in a very different form: we talk with three black Dutch actors from three different generations about their work and their experiences."

Hi, my name is Ivan Barbosa. I am a Dutch film director and my roots are in Cape Verde. Together with Roelof Jan Minneboo I was guest curator for the Eye film programme Black Light. To this end, we have started an ongoing research project in which we delve deeper into the portrayal of the Black identity in Dutch cinema. What does this mean for Dutch film from a historical perspective, how has it developed over the years and where does it possibly lead? In this series we discuss three Black actors who all represent an important generation in Dutch Black film history. How did they experience the portrayal of the Black Identity in Dutch cinema and what are their personal thoughts on this?

Roelof-Jan Minneboo: "In his book Toms, Coons, Mammies, Mulattoes and Bucks - An interpretive History of Blacks in American Cinema (New York 1995), Donald Bogle distinguishes five stereotypes. This refers to the submissive black man who adapts to the white norm (Tom), the naive clown (Coon), the sociable mama (Mammy), the tragic mixed woman (Mulatto) and the aggressive breeding stallion (Buck). These stereotypes are also reflected in Dutch cinema and on Dutch television. Think of the naive, always cheerful Dinky Henderson, played by Donald Jones in Pension Hommeles (1957-59) and the 'close to nature' Rowanda Pengel, played by Imanuelle Grives in Alleen maar nette mensen (2012).

Our main conclusion is that from the 1970s onward, Black people were often portrayed as victims of racist white people, who were often rescued by good white people. It is also noticeable that Black characters are rarely Black without being problematized in some way. We also see that this has been changing a lot lately."

Jack Monkau

Jack Monkau, born in 1939, son of Arthur Monkau (1908-1978), is the second Black actor in a Dutch film. He starred with Otto Sterman in Tamarind and starred in the underrated film Wildschut in 1985. Jack was the first to receive the Otto Sterman Oeuvre Award in 2017.

Kenneth Herdigein

Kenneth Herdigein, born in 1959, became immortal in 1984 through his portrayal of Rik Rollinga in the Wim T. Schippers television series Op zoek naar Yolanda. He was Dr John Wijntak in Zeg 'ns Aa for six years and played two leading roles in Dutch feature films.

Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing

Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing first came into the picture in 2013 with her lead role in Hoe duur was de suiker, the opening film of the Netherlands Film Festival. She immediately received a nomination for Best Actress for the Netherlands' most important film award, the Golden Calf. Last year she starred in the first Dutch Netflix Original Film Forever Rich by Shady El-Hamus. Since then she has appeared in many Dutch films and TV series, emerged as a style icon, wrote a monthly column for Vogue Netherlands and was nominated for an Elle Style Award – and she is a spokesperson for diversity in the Dutch film industry.

About Black Light

The film programme Black Light puts the spotlight on the portrayal of Black identity in film, from the 1920s to the present. In 2019 Eye invited ten guest curators to create the programme. From Orfeu negro and Touki Bouki to Do the Right Thing and Moonlight: there is not one Black cinema. Black Light celebrates the diversity and power of Black film. The guest curators showed the development of Black characters on the silver screen, the role models and the stereotypes. Within Black Light, Eye also presented the VR film Traveling While Black, in which director Roger Ross Williams sketches penetrating testimonies of the lives of Black Americans and gives a face to racially motivated police brutality.

poster Plantage Tamarinde (Michael Forlong, NL 1964)


On Sunday 11 December there will be a special afternoon with the premiere of the English-language feature film Tamarind with Jack Monkau, restored by Eye, a social drama about an old colonial who sees his familiar world collapse. Before the film, we will show three fragments from the interviews. Jack Monkau will be in attendance and will discuss the power and controversy of Tamarind with Isabelle Britto of The Black Archives.