top of page
Interview with Manju Reijmer
the 4th of April 2023
THE GRONINGEN HIV CASE
by Manju Reijmer
"The controversial Dutch sexual abuse case where three men purposefully injected queer victims with HIV"
Manju is a Dutch 32-year-old writer and commissioning editor at Videoland. He has been working as a screenwriter for the past 6 years where he started writing for young adults’ online fiction series. From there on, Manju has continually been expanding his repertoire by writings for the following tv-shows: Zina (2021-2022), Wacht ff (2021), Koeriers (2021) and Vakkenvullers (2018-2022).
Manju, can you tell us a bit about the concept you applied with?
So, The Groningen HIV case was a story I was familiar with. It was, sort of, like an urban legend, right? Like, ‘have you heard the story about getting purposely injected with HIV?’. It was this cautionary tale for queer people to hear about. And then Tom, my producer [Tom van Blommestein, Lemming Films], whom I've known and worked with for many years, told me the story and that he was looking for a writer.
I read the research book, and I was just sort of flabbergasted by the human aspect of it. You hear the story, and you think, ‘this is crazy, this is insane, this is horrifying’. But then you realize that this happened to real people who sort of like had this bizarro experience of being drugged and abused and then woke up not remembering anything. And then a few months later, they went to the doctor and they have HIV. It's a complete nightmare that's both impossible to relate with when you haven’t experienced it as well as, ‘oh my God, this could happen to me’. This could happen to anybody who goes on dates in the queer community.
I was drawn into the human aspect of it. I've been working a lot in activism and writing a lot for magazines about the safety of queer dating. So the dangers that specifically are for queer people, that maybe straight people have less to deal with. I mean, it's not safe for women either, but there are different dangers, I think.
This story completely nails that topic and expresses the urgency that surrounds it. So, yeah, it became very close to my heart very quickly.
It is a very local show and yet tackles themes that must be told in Europe and not only in the Netherlands.
What drew me to the European Writers Club immediately was this because I think: even though it happened like in the northern region of Holland, it's a very universal story. The danger of going on a date with someone you don't even know but you kind of trust which turns into a nightmare is universal. I think everybody can relate to it and that's why I think this story doesn't limit itself to Holland at all. But I also think that there is an aspect, at least for me, that Holland is internationally known as this very queer-friendly and sort of the ultimate place to be a queer person. And I think that's a lovely and somewhat earned image to have. But, I fear sometimes that it interferes with actually protecting queer people and still being on the lookout of the possible dangers that we still face today. So I really want to tell this story on a global level or an international level to show that we may have gay pride and we have marriage equality and all those things, but there are still terrible things happening as well.
Maybe, we need to be an example in how to deal with that as well, instead of just being the positive part.
I do see a challenge you're going to face and wan to raise two questions: 1) You are really real close to the story. Will you be will do anything to dramatize it? And 2) are you happy that we attached a consultant writer [Senad Halibašić] to your project so that you can always have this distance?
I'm in cloud nine with Senad. I’m very blessed and humbled to be working with him on it. And I think what you are saying is right, like you need fresh perspective and sort of a distance as well to, perhaps, humanize it and to really look for the complete emotional range that you want to that you want to say. Because if you're too close, then in you're in a tunnel vision.
We will have the privilege of having Annie Sulzberger, the head researcher of The Crown, as a special guest during our Boosting Concepts camp in Cork. Have you ever done research on your previous shows, or is this the first time that you work on based on true events?
My first show was actually about slut-shaming and sexting. The picture of a girl is leaked in her school, and she must find out who leaked it. So that was really grounded in research. I sort of have the same arc in my writing experience and that I think: ‘oh, this is really important and kind of a cool mystery to write’. But then, I read the real stories and you're thinking: ‘Oh my God, this is horrifying. How am I going to do these victims justice?’
I think research is a great way to get out of the tunnel vision. You see new stories that need to be told and new perspectives that you wouldn't necessarily have. I always think that the research is a great starting point.
I think the crown is like this beacon of how to dramatize research. So I'm really, really excited to learn from Annie.
EWC could be described as a safe playground for writers to explore and go a bit crazy, while receiving immediate feedback from professionals. Do you have any hopes and dreams of what you're going to take away from these camps?
My dream would be to come back with the story that I'm really happy with.
I think that I'm so grounded in my urgency for the show and the research for the show that I don’t know yet how to go crazy with it. I don't know how to let it go yet. So I'm really hoping that I learn that. To get to experiment and go crazy would be the best outcome.
And it is a dream to find a format or find the hook that would translate my project to a broad international audience. My background is focussed on how to engage with the Dutch audience, which is usually done by just adding cops (laughs). So I'm really excited to find out how to engage the rest of Europe. You can never ever predict really. But I believe deep down that if a story is told authentically and with love, it will translate to anybody around the world.
Tom van Blommestein
Steven van Roosmalen
bottom of page