Monday, February 1, 2016

An Innocent Children’s Holiday? Roger Ross Williams on “Black Pete” and his Short Film, Blackface

Admittedly, it was with a feeling of vindication and satisfaction that I stumbled upon Roger Ross Williams’ most recent short Blackface, now streaming on CNN. The Academy Award-winning director — whose feature Life, Animated premiered this week in the US Documentary Competition at Sundance — is a recent transplant to the Netherlands, and his thoughts upon first encountering Zwarte Piet (“My heart sank and I felt a little nauseated”) were a bit different from my own. As a white American, my initial reaction years ago to seeing both kids and adults in blackface and Afro wigs celebrating in the streets was more a mix of incredulity and horror. Nevertheless, the scale of our shared disgust is matched only in incomprehension by so many Dutch citizens’ inability to understand why us “outsiders” can’t just accept this as their longstanding tradition and move on. Why do non-Dutch have to meddle in another country’s business?

To search for answers to this and more, I sat down with Williams to discuss, among other issues, modern-day racism, taking a stand against injustice wherever it may occur, and why history can never be viewed in black and white.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

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