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Is there a place you’ve been that felt (or feels) safe to you? A place where you can be yourself without wondering how you’ll be received? A place where you breathe free and feel like you’re as good and worthy of happiness as anyone else? Amsterdam in 1933 represents such a place for the characters of the film AMSTERDAM. Although some reviewers refer to the film as comic, I wonder if they weren’t distracted by its nonconformist structure with asides and characters who were all visibly and emotionally damaged by WWI and, in the case of the Black characters, society in general. The main character Burt, as played by Christian Bale, carries numerous grievous scars from his military service, including an artificial eye that doesn’t stay in place well. (The wounded need a sense of humor.) He has a survival pact with his Black war-time friend Harold (John David Washington), a pact each of them honors. They’re loyal to their former comrades in arms and hold them in respect, especially as they return to a country whose promises to those who have sacrificed so much often ring hollow.
Although many dismissed the plot of AMSTERDAM as fantastic, it was loosely based on a very real conspiracy to rouse enough knee-jerk support from war veterans to remove the democratic American government as headed by Franklin Roosevelt and replace him with a dictator chosen by the elite. If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, you might guess why people like Robert DeNiro, Rami Malek, John David Washingon, Taylor Swift, and Zoe Saldana wanted to be involved. If certain viewers have been persuaded an attempt at an American coup is acceptable, they would have to deny the validity of the story in the same way they ignored the hateful racist reality of publicly beloved American icons such as Charles Lindbergh or Henry Ford. I read recently that history may not explicitly repeat itself, but it does seem to rhyme.
If you don’t have an actual safe-space Amsterdam of diverse peoples in your life, what would one look like? In what sort of location and among which people would you love to be? Would you like them to be practical, intelligent, good-humored, tolerant? What ambitions or emotions would you wish could be absent? If you were going to build such a place, how would you construct its foundation? What would make your space beautiful and peaceful—honesty, kindness, courage, empathy? Build your refuge in your heart where none can damage it, but don’t forget to invite others to join you. Life is sweetest when it can be shared.