Zwarte Piet, Black Pete – The Documentary

In recent years there has been some controversy over the celebration of Sinterklaas that features the problematic figure of Zwarte Piet. Sinterklaas is a yearly feast celebrated in the Netherlands on the evening of 5 December with sweets and presents for children. Sinterklaas is accompanied by a bunch of Zwarte Pieten (Black Pete) in costumes with bright colors and with their faces painted black. Al Jazeera dedicated an episode of the Stream to the topic:


The tradition is very popular and in my impression also becoming popular among ethnic minorities in the Netherlands but others have protested against what they see as racist imagery and the phenomenon of Black Pete as proof of the instutionalized and every day racism in the Netherlands.

Black Pete, Zwarte Piet

A film about the blackface tradition of Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands. Problematic? Or are the Dutch just having holiday fun?

Black Pete, Zwarte piet: The Documentary is a film about the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet. The documentary tries to explore different sides of the Sinterlaas/Zwarte Piet tradition: Who wishes to maintain the tradition? Who wishes to change the tradition? And why? he film features interviews of Dutch citizens, historians, scholars, activists, artists, and members of the general community. The film also explores the representation of Black people and the Black body in Dutch popular culture and how these images affect the lives of people of African descent on a day-to-day basis.


Black Pete, Zwarte Piet: The Documentary: An Interview with Shantrelle P. Lewis | Flyover Feminism

Zwarte Piet was something that I encountered while in the Netherlands. It happened to be at a time where there was a growing wave of public activism against Zwarte Piet, namely the Zwarte Piet is Racisme movement. I thought that it would be interesting to document the history of the tradition and the sentiment growing to abolish if not change the tradition. I also thought it would be interesting to interview people whose lives are both positively and negatively affected by Zwarte Piet.

Personally, this topic impacts me because it affects many people that I have close relationships with in the Netherlands. Also, I’m a Black woman who is at this point, deeply connected to the Netherlands. So although I’m African American, I’m not affected any less by the Zwarte Piet tradition when I encounter its celebration and symbolism.

Beyond that, I believe that Zwarte Piet is symbolic of a broader reality of institutionalized racism. The (mis)representation of Black people and the black body in the Netherlands can be found throughout popular culture, its highest institutions and what scholar Philomena Essed calls “Everyday Racism.”

The film is directed and co-produced by Shantrelle P. Lewis, a Brooklyn-based curator who has received her bachelor and master’s degree in African American Studies. Sheis been engaged in research in the Netherlands andthe Dutch Caribbean for the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI). In her work she tries to engage critically with socio-political phenomena. Chanelle Aponte Pearson is the other co-producer a queer multimedia artist, producer and researcher promoting cultural heritage, social justice, and empowerment through film, photography, fine and art and research in particular pertaining to issues involving LGBTQ community, people of color. Shawn Peters is Director of Photography. He is a cinematographer using light and form to tell unique stories. Brett Russel is still photographer born and raised on the island of Curaçao and moved to the Netherlands when he was 18. He uses his photos to communicate visual narratives. He is responsible for the signature image ‘Black Pete’ that featured last year in the VU University magazine Ad Valvas.


The makes have launced a Kickstarter Campaign in order to raise money. This appears to be very successful as they have already reached that goal. They need much more than the declared goal of 20.000 dollar, so more donations are very welcome. The Netherlands is not an easy country to start a debate on its own racism although it was clearly present in the past and it still is. Often people regard calling something racist as highly offensive and state that an ‘accusation’ of racism kills the debate meaning that the ‘accuser’ actually silenced. I hope this film can contribute to a more meaningfull and in-depth debate about racism then we have seen so far.

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