“CTFF ’21: New Light – The Rijksmuseum and Slavery: a story of unlearning and centering the voiceless
By Nelie Diverlus
New Light - The Rijksmuseum and Slavery, directed by Ida Docs premiered at the 16th annual CaribbeanTales Film Festival ‘21 . Harsh truths and artifacts are uncovered about slavery within this film, and this story works to give the viewers a new viewpoint in regard to our perception of the colonial era.
Centered in the Netherlands, this film revolves around the Rijksmuseum and its devotion to centering the voices of those that were enslaved. By opening a slave exhibition at this site, the characters dive into unpacking and de-platforming the oppressors, but rather elevating those that were silenced. Revelations are made within their discovery to uncover the buried truth, allowing the viewer to gain insight into the horrors of the colonial era – a reality that remains unfathomable for us today.
Director Ida Does boasts her stunning vision through various elements: sound, lighting, and symbols. Sound carries the film to new dimensions – the classical music played throughout, especially when mirrored against various shots of artwork, adds an eerie and unsettling approach to the story. The discomforting composition almost resembles a horror film, leaving the viewer unnerved. The narrative told of this artwork is incredibly significant; the violence ensued by these glorified figures is indeed unsettling, and this film sheds light on this. This film also has incredible sound recording, as each subject speaking is heard clearly and distinctly.
Similarly, lighting also drives this story forward. The use of soft lighting adds warmth to the story, as well as illuminates the characters to resemble an angelic glow around the subjects of the film. Additionally, the choice of using blues and yellows as the primary hues was masterful – the appearance of this colouring on Black skin was magnificent.
Symbolism is very profound within this film. The motif of beads signifies both bondage and freedom, as well as the preservation of history. Preserving artifacts is the main bulk of the film, seen within different narratives within the story. Visions of water and sunlight bring an ethereal sense to the film – symbolizing hope and looking beyond a horizon.
“Visions of water and sunlight bring an ethereal sense to the film – symbolizing hope and looking beyond a horizon.”
It is rather important to mention the nature of the content and the lens in which it is told. At various points in the film, it appears to be seen through the white gaze, making the content all the more unsettling. White guilt guides portions of the film, at times removing away from the true essence of the message, and rather catering to white observers. This has great potential to whitewash the narrative – gratefully, the prominent Black characters reclaim the narrative to return the message back to its rightful place.
Ultimately, New Light – The Rijksmuseum and Slavery combines impressive visuals with a compelling message. Uncovering the many layers of slavery will always prove to be more complex than imagined. Through poetic imagery, this film uncovers, both figuratively and literally, the harsh realities endured by those with wishes for a better life.
Editor’s Note: New Light – The Rijksmuseum and Slavery screened at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival ’21, as part of the A Different World programme.