“There is actually not much queer content from Amsterdam, even though we are known as the queer capital and the first country (Netherlands) where gay marriage was legalized. Amsterdam is seen as so free, but there is really not that much representation coming from Amsterdam — yet,” says Dutch actor Hanna van Vliet.
Enter Anne+, a web series about a 20-something Dutch lesbian that has captivated viewers around the world. Van Vliet, along with screenwriter Maud Wiemeijer and director Valerie Bisscheroux, is co-creator of the series, which has garnered an extraordinary international following of folks enchanted by Anne, her lovers and friends, and the city of Amsterdam.
“We wanted to portray the Amsterdam queer culture as it is so when people do come to Amsterdam, they maybe know where to go or have a feeling of what queer culture is like. The city is a big character in the entire series and the film,” says Bisscheroux, the first-time director who steered the first season of the web series, a second season made for TV, and the forthcoming feature film.
The well-made series is a funny, sexy, and sometimes heartbreaking portrayal of a young lesbian living in Amsterdam exploring what she wants out of life and how to get it. Portrayed by actor Van Vliet, Anne Verbeek is a charming white cisgender middle-class lesbian who is often more than a little self-involved. The “+” in the title conveys that each episode about Anne plus one of her lovers (first season) or a couple (second season) to whom she is connected. The series features clubbing and partying, daily life struggles, and frank discussions among friends and lovers. As her story unfolds, we see Anne go in and out of relationships, grow as a person, gain awareness about herself and her privileges, and figure out what and who she really wants.
Anne+ tackles questions of privilege as well as identity, community, love, friendship, and other issues. The cast diversifies further in the second season and includes a range of BIPOC and trans people, gay men, and other queers of various sizes, shapes, and persuasions. There’s also realistic — and hot — sex between women.
It’s clear Anne+ grew from its beginnings as a light-hearted series made to normalize lesbian life to a show possessing a more specific and broad queer orientation. This, the creators say, was intentional. “We wanted to avoid the stereotyped view on lesbian women — at first, and now we’ve broadened the spectrum. We tried to make it as diverse as possible. There’s still tons of other types we still have to fit in somewhere, but I think we’ve come quite far,” says Van Vliet.
Anne+ was strongly influenced by the French-Canadian lesbian web series Féminin/ Féminin as well as Australia’s Please Like Me and Transparent in the U.S. The trio of Dutch media makers decided to “go guerrilla” and shoot the first two episodes with a volunteer cast and crew who felt connected to the need for queer female representation. A crowdfunding campaign that was funded at nearly 200 percent supported the endeavor. This got producer Millstreet Films on board. Millstreet pitched the show to several Dutch TV outlets, all of which indicated a lesbian lead character wasn’t viable nor was funding a web series, so Millstreet decided to finish the other four episodes of the web series.
Screenwriter Wiemeijer explains, “We didn’t give up when people didn’t want to buy our show, and we just did it ourselves because we are all queer filmmakers and we felt how important it was to make something like this.”
Then BNNVARA, a public broadcaster in the Netherlands, acquired the web series. It was released on the broadcaster’s YouTube channel with English subtitles in 2018. And the broadcaster also got on board to develop season 2 for TV, which aired in 2020.
The creators met Orange Is the New Black’s Laura Gómez while screening the first season of Anne+ at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019. Gómez became a fan and had a role in season 2. With YouTube videos of Bisscheroux, Wiemeijer, and Van Vliet answering viewer questions along with international media coverage, the show’s reach grew exponentially. The series was picked up by Walter Presents in the U.K., Dutch/Belgian Netflix, and Topic TV in the U.S.
Making an Anne+ feature film was then thrown into the mix. Millstreet Films has produced the film for a release in Dutch cinemas in September in co-production with BNNVARA and is partnering with Netflix for a worldwide release in early 2022. The film picks up roughly where the second season of the web series ends but also works as a standalone piece. Wiemeijer, Bisscheroux, and Van Vliet describe the experience of defying COVID and mainstream resistance to bring this film to fruition as “queer joy.” While the creators won’t give away much about the film, Bisscheroux did reveal that the movie introduces a new, nonbinary character, “giving us more space to talk about not only gender identity but also about gender expression.”
“[Anne+] is going to be worldwide,” says Wiemeijer. “So, a lot of subtitles and dubbing. “It’s going to be in a lot of different countries. It’s so exciting — this was our highest goal, to reach so many people at once.”
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 People of the Year issue, which is out on newsstands November 23, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.