Funded! This project was successfully funded on March 12, 2013.

Update #9

Call for Participants - Black Pete, Zwarte Pite: The Documentary


Greetings All,

I hope that everyone's summer is getting off to a great start! As many of you all know, I am preparing for my next trip back to the Netherlands to conduct preliminary research for Black Pete, Zwarte Piet: The Documentary as well as to cover some footage of the celebrations and events happening around Keti Koti and the 150th Year Celebration of the Abolishment of Slavery in Dutch territories.

Ideally, I will be spending much of my time identifying individuals with interesting stories and experiences related to the celebration of Zwarte Piet. While we will not start our main production until the Fall, we are interested in identifying key subjects now.

What we're looking for:
*Individuals who are officially involved with Zwarte Piet celebrations and organizations (including the officials/individuals who organize the annual parades, Intocht, etc…)

*Families who host elaborate celebrations and traditions involving Zwarte Piet.

*Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet historians (and/or academics who have conducted extensive research on the topic).

*Journalists who regularly cover Zwarte Piet celebrations.

*Individuals who dress up as Zwarte Piet (particularly someone who has done so for many years and/or a young adult who is just beginning to dress up).

*Individuals who have been engaged in historic protests or resistance against Zwarte Piet (even if it was not highly publicized).

This is an opportunity for people interested in discussing the history, customs and traditions associated with Sinterklaas to potentially have their story included in the documentary.

Please Note: For individuals concerned about the overall approach of the film, while I may have on my own opinions about the celebration as an American, as a filmmaker and researcher, I'm committed to telling the most objective and nuanced story possible. Interesting films are those that explore all sides of a controversial issue and that's what I'm interested in accomplishing with this documentary. I would especially love to hear from people who hold his tradition near and dear to their hearts, who don't see it as problematic or racist and who are open to discussing the tradition in a very honest, intelligent, meaningful and respectful way.

For more information or if interested in being considered for participation in this project, please submit the following info:

Affiliation with Sinterklaas Celebration:
A brief summary of how you celebrate the tradtion in 3 - 5 sentences:

Shantrelle P. Lewis
Director | Producer
Black Pete, Zwarte Piet: The Documentary

Interview Dates: June 19 - June 29, 2013
Production Dates: November - December, 2013
The Netherlands


Update #8

Tales of Zwarte Piet in the Caribbean and South America

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Greetings All!

I've recently returned from a month-long excursion throughout the Dutch Caribbean conducting research on African traditions in the region. Thanks to the generous support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) for a forthcoming exhibition that I'll be curating about the Dutch Caribbean Diaspora, I was able to travel to Aruba, Curacao and Suriname for the purpose of researching African traditions in the region.

While my work in the aforementioned countries is focused on cultural traditions that have been maintained and retained since the first groups of enslaved Africans were brought to the Caribbean islands and mainland of Suriname by Dutch master enslavers and traders, it was inevitable that tales of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet would appear in my general investigations and interviews.

Needless to say, Zwarte Piet popped up randomly in each country that I visited. In Aruba, I discovered that a newly acquainted friend, who just happens to be tall, white, blond and of Dutch descent, for many years as a young man played the role of Sinterklaas for children in his neighborhood as his friends dressed up as Zwarte Piet. It wasn't until later in his adult life that he began to question the practice and see it as problematic. He still has affectionate feelings towards Sinterklaas, he just doesn't agree with the blackface associated with Zwarte Piet.

Then I met a middle-aged Black woman who was educated in the Netherlands. She told me that when she lived in the Netherlands as young artist, she made certain that she did not wear hoop earrings or particular colors, as not to be called Zwarte Piet during the holidays, which apparently happened to her on more than one occasion.

In Curacao, I met several people who shared their views about the holiday. Many of the Antilleans that I spent time speaking to, were not opposed to Zwarte Piet but did not support his blackface. Over recent years, Curacao has increasingly made changes to their celebration of Sinterklaas. The most prominent change has been the changing of Zwarte or Black Piet to "Rainbow Piet." The figure has literally been transformed into Piet of assorted colors - Red Piet, Green Piet, Blue Piet, etc…

Perhaps the most interesting anecdotes I encountered during my travels were in Suriname. Among them was the story of the Vredes (and another that I'm going to save for the film). The couple was among the thousands of young Surinamese intellectuals, professionals, workers and families who traveled to the Netherlands seeking educational, economic and professional opportunities. During the earlier years of their marriage when their first daughter was a young child, the young couple protested against the celebration of Zwarte Piet at their daughter's school. This happened after their daughter came home crying saying that kids at school were calling her Zwarte Piet. Needless to say, there was a meeting held and Mr. Vrede demanded that the school alter its practice of the celebration to something that was more appropriate for all kids, including his child. He believed Zwarte Piet to be both racist and offensive. One of the parents said in response: "My grandfather did this, my father did this and the next generation will do it too." The next day, an article was published in a local paper, the Volksrant about a "frustrated Black man" in opposition to Zwarte Piet. So many years later, Mr. and Mrs. Vrede are disappointed that the tradition is still alive and well. However, they are excited to see all of the activism happening around the subject by various individuals and groups in the Netherlands and very supportive of our documentary.

These experiences were all brought to my attention without me having to go digging for information. My time in the Dutch Caribbean has provided even further context for my developing understanding of attitudes towards race and racism in the Netherlands.

We have our work cut out for us, but I can't wait to start working on this film!

As usual, I look forward to sharing my findings.  Now that I'm back, we've also started production on your various kickstarter perks. Can't wait to start shipping those as well. Have a fantastic and productive week.

In Light,

Pictured: Astrid and Barry Vrede | Suriname, South America | April 2013

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Update #7

Masha Danki! (Thank You!)


First: [God] is sacrifice. Suffer in this life and you will be happy in the next.

Second: People who have fun are childish. Remain tense at all times.

Third: Other people know what is best for us because they have more experience.

Fourth: Our duty is to make other people happy. We must pleae them even if that means making major sacrifices.

Fifth: We must not drink from the cup of happiness; we might get to like it and we won't always have it in our hands.

Sixth: We must accept all punishments. We are guilty.

Seventh: Fear is a warning. We don't want to take any risks.

These are the commandments that no Warrior of the Light can obey.

~ Paulo Coelho, The Warrior of the Light

Dearest Warriors of the Light,

In 30 Days:  We raised $27,785 | 536 People Financially Backed Our Campaign | 8,688 People Shared Our Link on Facebook | We were featured in three publications including the Huffingtonpost | A global community became involved in our art for change                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

On behalf of the A-Team, please allow me to say thank you once more. Prior to launching the kickstarter campaign, I was nervous and excited. After launching and thus committing 24-hours of my day to promoting and sharing it, I often times asked myself why was I adding such a huge challenge on my plate, as if I didn't have enough projects to keep me busy. This was not an easy task. Tackling such a controversial subject is not for the faint of heart.

However, the more feedback that I received, both positive and negative, from the white and Black community alike in the States, in the Netherlands and internationally, the more that I realized that this film had to be made. The response and support, as I've stated several times to date, was so positive, that it was humbling. Many people, especially Dutch citizens and Dutch Caribbean citizens, kept me encouraged. It's their stories that will be told in this documentary, not my own. I feel blessed that I am able to use my tools and talents to do so for such a higher purpose and critical platform in hopes that our future will be brighter.

Because of your confidence, I promise to work as hard as I can to make the most poignant, thoroughly researched film that I can possibly direct and produce. This is a journey and we are only at the beginning. I hope that we can count on your moral support along the way.

I'm currently traveling throughout the Dutch Caribbean, conducting research in general for my Andy Warhol Curatorial Fellowship and the more I learn, the more I'm amazed by its culture and history.

Please anticipate receiving your perks during the timeframe allotted and I definitely look forward to embarking upon this journey with you.

Continue being amazing people wherever you are in situated currently in the world. Our universe is a magnificent place.

Masha Danki (Thank you in Papiamientu).

Warmest Greetings from Curacao,
Director & Producer

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Update #6

Raising the Bar | One Week to Go | Raising $40K


Good morning Warriors of the Light!

Exactly three weeks ago, I nervously embarked on a campaign to fundraise for my largest endeavor to date. Two weeks later, we reached our initial goal. Three weeks later, we're pushing ourselves a little further, raising the bar a little higher and striving tremendously to double our goal.

As you all know (or may not know), films cost LOTS of money to make. Especially films overseas. The money that we're raising through kickstarter will only fund one aspect of the film - shooting interviews. If we're able to raise an additional $20K, we will be able to travel to other destinations to document other blackface traditions and conduct many more interviews. We would like to present the most thoroughly researched story possible!

All that to say, please continue supporting this campaign! We ONLY have ONE WEEK left to raise an additional $17K to reach our goal of $40,000.

Believe it or not, there are zillions of people who haven't heard about this campaign. Even some of my friends! I posted the link on one friend's page over the weekend and she donated $500 the next day but had absolutely no idea that this campaign was taking place. If you can do us a huge favor and SHARE the link and post our new video, we'll be even more indebted than we are already are to you. Encourage those friends and colleagues who haven't donated yet to do so today. The money won't be taken out of everyone's accounts until March 12th.

Kickstarter link:

Audre Lorde said "Revolution is not a one time event."

We agree.

In Light,

P.S. Much to my humility and surprise, I received an email from a friend with a request from my 11-year old niece , asking for support for my film. This is much bigger than us. The kids are watching our every move. Let's leave this world better than we found it, for them.

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Update #5

Making History One Day at at Time | We DID it!


"When [s]he wins a battle, the Warrior celebrates.

This victory has cost her anxious moments, nights racked with doubt, endless days of waiting. Since ancient times celebrating a triumph has been part of the ritual of life itself. Celebration is a rites of passage.

Her companions see the Warrior of the Light's joy and think: 'Why is she doing that? She might be disappointed in her next battle. She might draw down on himself the wrath of his enemy.'

But the Warrior knows why she is celebrating. She is savoring the best gift that victory can bring: confidence.

She celebrates yesterday's victory in order to gain more strength for tomorrow's battle."
~ Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light

Greetings Warriors of Light,

On behalf of my tiny production team, I would like to say thank you in every language possible! As of 2:04 p.m. on Tuesday, February 26, 2013, we raised $20,001!

Those of you who are familiar with Kickstarter know that this is an incredible accomplishment. Many campaigns are anxiously raising funds up until the very last hour to reach their target goal. WE were able to accomplish that in half the time.

This kickstarter campaign has been so successful because of YOU. This achievement was achieved by an international community of Warriors of the Light - People who believe in vision, change and the power to make a difference.

This is not my accomplishment alone but OUR accomplishment. So give yourselves a pat on the back because it was YOUR hard work that allowed us to make World History during Black History Month.

But we're not through yet! The campaign doesn't officially end until March 12, 2013. We've raised $20,900 to date but we need to raise at least $40,000 right now. WHY? 

▪ Films costs a lot of money - a really good documentary will costs somewhere between $300K - $500K to make from beginning to end. Just ask Award-winning filmmaker Byron Hurt.

▪ The money that we're raising through Kickstarter only covers ONE aspect of the film - shooting our interviews in the Netherlands (not editing, post-production, the sound track, animation, film festivals, marketing, etc...)

▪ If we raise $40,000 right now, we'll also be able to travel to Curacao to document the Zwarte Piet tradition there as well as other parts in Europe, where blackface exists, such as Sweden.

▪ In order to approach foundations for further support, we need enough footage to draft a comprehensive 30-minute sample. That's what this money will allow us to do. We've applied to at least one grant to date. We're working overtime to make this happen.

So, we still need your SUPPORT and ENTHUSIASM! I personally ask that you continue to share the link, talk about the issues and encourage people to be a part of history in the making and get involved!

We have 13 days left in this campaign. I believe in me. I believe in you. I believe in us. WE can do this.

In Light and Optimism,

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