"Racist throwback" at the Efteling?
An American journalist has come under fire after a travel article of hers appeared in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the Efteling for, among other things, racist undertones. Gisela Williams wrote a travel entry for the Wall Street Journal in January, in which she describes her visit to the theme park with her two young daughters. She chose the Efteling over a Disney park because she likened the latter to the "wall of candy at checkout [...] Endless temptation. Little negotiating space. A marathon of rejection and guilt." The Dutch national treasure, the Efteling amusement park, cropped up as an interesting, "old-fashioned, less commercial" alternative. She wrote about the Efteling Hotel not quite being as magical as hoped and feeling instead like a "90s Days Inn than a fairy-tale castle", but that the Efteling "revealed itself at a leisurely pace" like a "slow-working enchantment." Her children, she writes, seemed entirely swept up in the magic and fairytale of the place. The park, which came to life in 1952, encompasses many aspects of old-fashioned fairy tales à la Brothers Grimm. In this way it proves a uniquely dissimilar experience to Disney-style enchantments. The 'sprookjespark' is a collaboration between celebrated designer and artist Anton Pieck and filmmaker Peter Reijnders. Or, as Williams puts it: "In American terms, it's a little bit as if Norman Rockwell had teamed up with Tim Burton." Williams forwent the park's unique take on style, design and atmosphere and compared rides to a Peter Jackson film. "What the dioramas lacked in high-tech frills, they made up for in old-fashioned charm." It is this very old-fashioned charm that Williams found fault with. About a tea-cup ride in which people are spun around in giant cooking pots, she writes: "There was an unpleasant side to Efteling: The way dark-skinned people were depicted. At a carousel-like ride called Monsieur Cannibale, for instance, an enormous figure wore a chef's hat on his head and a spoon through his nostrils — a racist throwback to the days of the Dutch East India Company that made for more explaining."
A spokesperson from the Efteling reacted to this comment by saying "in our park, we embellish characters from stories, myths and folk tales. We don't generalize, we only portray these characters. Therefore, we don't also think that all step-mothers are bad people, like in Snow White, or that all people with obesity eat lots of paper, like Holle Bolle Gijs." Disney itself isn't exempt from accusations of racism. From Native Americans to African-Americans to Asians, they've all received their fair share of unseemly portrayals. The piece in the paper is further "lyrical", the spokesperson said, "The Efteling is described as a European alternative for the American Disney. That we can be proud of." De Telegraaf wrote about the piece, which fueled an outcry against the journalist. The article has had such an impact that Williams has received at least one death threat, as she herself revealed on Twitter.
This article is the latest accusation of racist veins in Dutch culture. Sinterklaas's Zwarte Piet has been a regular feature in racism debates in the last few years.