Happy mid-2014! I hope that this message finds you in good health and spirits. It has definitely been a minute since my last update. So much has happened since then and I’m happy to finally be able to bring everyone up to speed with what’s going on with the film. If you completed the survey, you should have received your perks. Those of you who pledged at higher levels have more on the way.
As some of you all may know, last year, the Netherlands exploded over the Zwarte Piet issue. Much of the controversy happened after Dr. Verene Shepherd, the former chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent of the United Nations, vociferously denounced the holiday celebration as racist. As a result, millions of mostly white, pro-Zwarte Piet supporters went to social media to express their outrage over the statement and support of the tradition. Pro-Zwarte Piet protests were held and tensions flew. Anti-Zwarte Piet activists received death threats and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights were inundated with hundreds of thousands of hate mail. I also received some threatening messages and other negative feedback about the film from people who were not happy that their tradition was being shown in a non-positive light.
Despite some anxiety, I traveled to the Netherlands and stayed there for a month last November and December during the height of the holiday celebration to document the many protests and festivities that took place as well as attend Amsterdam's annual Sinterklaas parade. The anti-Zwarte Piet protests that occurred, were unprecedented. Hundreds of people from various backgrounds came out to express their outrage and frustration with the blackface tradition and its celebration. In response, the Dutch majority in many ways celebrated the holiday more passionately than ever before. I took note of the every day signs of racism that are interwoven in the holiday itself.
The energy was intense during those four weeks but I was humbled to be one of millions of people from both sides of the debate, who bore witness to one of the most historical moments in Dutch history. That would not have been possible without your financial support and the physical and moral support of my adopted family, friends, comrades and colleagues in the Netherlands who are dedicated to this project and committed to creating change in their own society. Special thanks to Bouba Dola for joining me in the trenches to capture much needed footage for the film during last year's holiday season.
RECENT PRESS ABOUT THE FILM
I was able to travel to the Netherlands and spend two months there, doing research, attending conferences and lectures, meeting with scholars and activists and conducting documentation for the film. I was there during the 150th celebration of Keti Koti, which commemorates the end of Dutch slavery and then again for the Sinterklaas holidays. Over the past year, I submitted several grants applications that were not approved. Initially, it was a major blow and felt like a defeat. When I first began this project, I placed tremendous pressure on myself to have the film completed by the end of last year. After hitting a few roadblocks and seeking advice from veteran filmmakers, I realized that my timeline was a bit ambitious. With anything in life, the fastest route is not always the best road to travel. In hindsight, had that funding been awarded, the story that we would have captured would not have been as complete. With the many developments that have occurred in the Netherlands over the past several months alone, I’ve gained even more perspective about the kind of narrative that should be told, one less about shock value and more of an in-depth picture of how an environment that celebrates blackface, affects the lives of everyday people. With that said, making a film about such a controversial topic, in a foreign land, is definitely not as easy as I thought it would be. It has required patience, flexibility and a level of tenacity and resolve that has provided me with an extraordinary challenge and opportunity. A friend told me during a particularly stressful moment that "if a mountain was smooth, it couldn't be climbed." With that bit of inspiration, I pushed forward. I am a 1000% committed to this project and will do whatever it takes to produce a powerful finished product.
This past Spring, I was one of five fellows selected to participate in the Programme for People of African Descent at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. That afforded me the opportunity to engage with other Human Rights activists, including scholar-activist Su Girigori from Curacao, as well as the U.N.'s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and representatives from the Dutch Kingdom. They were already aware of the Zwarte Piet controversy and have since conducted an official country visit to the Netherlands and Curacao to investigate the status of people of African descent there. As a group, they released a formal post-visit statement urging the Netherlands to take bolder steps to address issues, including Zwarte Piet, that are detrimental to people of African descent living in the Netherlands and the Dutch Kingdom at-large.
Recently an experienced grant writer and a new producer have come on board and joined the A-Team. This November, the production team will be returning to the Netherlands to shoot more footage and interviews. We’re also working on a work sample to be shared with funders and our supporters later this year. If all goes well, I anticipate a finished product to be released late 2015/early 2016.
GENERAL ZWARTE PIET RELATED UPDATES
Over recent months, there have been significant developments around the Zwarte Piet issue. Here some links to a few:
Zwarte Piet Niet Demonstration at Bursplein (in Dutch and English) My interview is at 5:57
Video Footage of Silent Protest at the Amsterdam Sinterklaas Parade (In English)
- Recent Dutch Court Ruling
- Activists Respond to Court Ruling
- Recent U.N. Statement After Official Visit to the Netherlands
- You can follow weekly updates about the film and related topics on on our facebook page
- Be on the look out for links to photo albums of my two visits to the Netherlands last year
- You all are cordially invited to attend BlackStar Film Festival, a Philadelphia-based film and music fest featuring independent films from around the Diaspora. I'm an Advisory Board member for this amazing event and served as a juror for this year's Short Documentary competition, along with Tambay Obenson (Shadow and Act) and Dyana Williams.
I’m so appreciative for the steady encouragement and assistance that so many of you have extended on the journey to make this film not only something of high quality but of social significance with the potential to change society. I look forward to sharing more updates as the project progresses.
Director + Producer