Black Pete: Behind the Make Up

Completed in 2015, this short documentary tells the story of Black Piet and Sinterklaas in the Netherlands.

Every year during Christmas time, the people of the Netherlands celebrate Sinterklaas (Dutch version of Saint Nicholas), a long standing Dutch tradition that has been documented since 1360. An important part of the festivities is the helper of Sinterklaas called Zwarte Piet or Black Pete.

In 2014, a Dutch court ruled that the figure of Black Piet is a racial stereotype.

Then in 2015, the UN stated that even a “deeply rooted cultural tradition does not justify discriminatory practices and stereotypes”:

Netherlands has always been known as one of the most tolerant countries in the world and since the 16th century has been known as a safe haven for minority groups, and has been liberal to controversial topics such as LGBT rights, same sex parenting, euthanasia and soft drugs use.

This documentary explores a changing Dutch tradition.

  • Fritz Kohle
    "5 to 12", "God, Church, Pills & Condoms", "Absolute Darkness"
  • Fritz Kohle, Arleen Cuevas
  • Arleen Cuevas
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    28 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    October 1, 2015
  • Production Budget:
    25,000 EUR
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
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Director Biography - Fritz Kohle

Fritz Kohle studied at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design and later as a postgraduate at the Northern Media School, Sheffield Hallam University. Kohle worked his way up to become Location Manager on Channel 4 (UK) feature films, Head of Productions at the Lux Centre London and Field Producer for iBeam Europe.

As a freelance Producer and Production Manager he produced episodes for Marienhof, one of Germany's most popular soaps with a daily viewership exceeding 6 million. In collaboration with the Ludwigsburg Film Academy in Germany, he published the media handbook Medienmacher Heute. Kohle's passion for teaching led him to work with young offenders as well as aspiring filmmakers.

Kohle's projects include post-production management for Studio Babelsberg's features in Berlin such as Wim Wender's Soul of a Man, and Jackie Chan's 80 Days Around the World. In addition, he was also involved in various German soaps such as Notruf 110 and Tatort.

Kohle was Bigfoot Entertainment's Head of Post Production until 2007. In 2007 he started working as Assistant Director, Production Centre and Post-production for New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, Singapore Campus.

He now works as a lecturer in the Netherlands and continues to produce and direct documentary films while studying for a PhD in social media and documentary production.

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Director Statement

As a foreigner living in the Netherlands I became curious about the discussion surrounding the figure of Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, which is part of the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas or Saint Nikolaus.

Sinterklaas and his servant Zwarte Piet visit the Netherlands every year on December 6. They arrive on a steam boat from Spain and bring presents to all the Dutch children.

But recently the event has become the focus of criticism: black ethnic minorities consider this tradition to be racist, a Dutch court ruled that the figure of Zwarte Piet is a racial stereotype and the UN is calling on the Dutch to change the event.

This documentary explores how a long standing Dutch tradition, which is documented since 1360, is changing.

We thank all those participating and trusting us in making this film.