(English title) THE EMPOWERMENT OF BLACK PETE: Saint Pete and White Nicholas
Satirical film about the annual Sinterklaas and Black Pete tradition in the Netherlands and Belgium.
The Sinterklaas feast is racist. Change the position of Black Pete! Let’s empower Black Pete!
In this film the tables are turned: Black Pete is the boss and Saint Nicholas is the servant.
According to history the servant of Sinterklaas (= Saint Nicholas) was a white person originally, but the servant became a blackface under the influence of the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism in past centuries. At that time the Dutch created a story that the servant had fallen through a chimney and became black and his hair became afro suddenly. The Dutch Kingdom had colonies such as Suriname and Curacao. Blackface became a representation of black people in those colonies, because blackface has a big afro and he used to talk with a Surinamese or Antillean accent back in the 1980s when I was a child. In the Netherlands and Belgium people call him Black Pete (= Zwarte Piet). He’s dressed up in a typical costume of Moorish servants in Spain in the 19th century.
I’m a black man. Honestly, when I was a little child, I looked forward to Sinterklaas and Black Pete every year, because they give candies and presents to children. They visited my school in The Hague every year. Many times I was the only black child in the class room. Every year the teachers made me and other kids dress up as Black Pete to welcome Sinterklaas to our school. All white children and some teachers put black paint on their faces to look like blackface. They always told me I didn’t have to put any paint on my face, because my skincolor is brown already. So I’ve never put any paint on my face and I’m glad I never had to do this. Also my mother always refused to put black paint on my face, because she believes blackface is racist. That’s why I also don’t have any paint on my face in this short film that I directed in 2013.
As a child growing up in the 1980s I enjoyed the Sinterklaas and Black Pete tradition, but at the same time I also felt insulted that Black Pete was a representation of the stereotypical “dumb black person”, because Black Pete could not speak Dutch decently and he was really bad at math. He was just the dumb black servant of Sinterklaas. This is racist and that’s why so many people of African descent feel insulted by the figure of blackface. I don’t think that all Dutch or Belgian white people are racists, but a lot of them are racists, sadly. If you ignore the feelings and pain of black minorities in your country or deny our right to protest, then you are a racist. Yes, I know that black people can be racists too, but that’s not really the issue here. Sinterklaas is a white man’s party which is kind of insulting for black people because of the character Black Pete. By the way, Holland is my country too, because I was born and raised here and I pay taxes. We have a right to express our opinions in a democracy and we should have the freedom to challenge the system in any way possible. You may not like that, but you just have to deal with it!
At last, I’d like to say that I don’t want to ban the Sinterklaas feast, but I do think we should change the looks of his servants. Stop making your faces black and stop wearing an afro wig! I think that the “Roetveegpiet” (= Sooty face) or the “Regenboogpiet” (= Rainbow face) is a great solution. Then all people, young and old, black and white, will be able to enjoy the Sinterklaas tradition.
Filmed in Westduinpark, The Hague.
Written, produced and directed by Ryan Maurice Roemer.
Filming & video editing by Alexander Contreras.