ARTS & CULTURE
02/27/2013 01:04 pm ET | Updated Oct 24, 2013

'Zwarte Piet' Documentary Explores Controversial Netherlands Holiday Tradition Of 'Black Pete' Character (VIDEO)

In recent years, controversy has been rising over the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete"), a prominent figure in holiday celebrations in the Netherlands. In December, Dutch people dress up in blackface, color their lips bright red and don large afro wigs in order to become Santa's helper -- who, the Guardian reports, is sometimes depicted as stupid or clumsy.

American curator and filmmaker Shantrelle P. Lewis has set out to investigate this controversial character with her Kickstarter project titled, "Black Pete, Zwarte Piet: The Documentary." She writes in her pitch: "Who seeks to change the tradition? Who seeks to maintain it? And why?"

"Many Dutch say Pete's black face derives from the soot he picked up climbing down chimneys to deliver presents -- although that hardly explains the frizzy hair and big lips," the National Post reports. In 2011, a man was beaten by the police for protesting Black Pete celebrations without a permit; afterward, a video of the incident was posted on YouTube and received international attention.

Lewis will explore the Black Pete tradition in her documentary, but the film is also about "creating a counter-narrative to negative stereotypes about black people in the Netherlands," she says in her Kickstarter video. Lewis and her team plan to shoot footage in the Netherlands during holiday celebrations and also during the holiday Keti Koti -- “Breaking of the Chains” -- which marks the date the Dutch government abolished slavery in Suriname.

Take a look at depictions of Black Pete below and let us know your thoughts on the tradition in the comments section.

Black Pete, Zwarte Piet

Clarification: Language has been amended to reflect that the fact that in the Netherlands, St. Nicholas has his own holiday, celebrated on Dec. 5, which is distinct from Christmas.

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