December 4th, 2015

BLACKFACE Streams Across CNN’s Digital Platforms

Academy® Award-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams’s new provocative short explores racially-charged Christmas tradition

Academy® Award-winning filmmaker, Roger Ross Williams, takes viewers with him on a provocative exploration of the origins of the curious Christmastime custom of dressing up in blackface, for his latest documentary short film, also titled BLACKFACE, co-produced by CNN Films and CNN Digital Studios, and now streaming across CNN’s digital platforms, the network announced today. BLACKFACE makes its global premiere across CNN’s digital and mobile platforms.

In Holland, “a country of tolerance, forward-thinking, bikes, and Dutch apple pie,” as Williams describes in his narration, dressing up as Zwarte Piet, is as Dutch as “tulips or Gouda cheese.” Each December, as in the United States and many countries around the world, revelers mark the holiday season by dressing up as Santa Claus (“Sinterklaas”). In the Netherlands though, Santa is frequently depicted with a mischievous companion, “Zwarte Piet,” or “Black Pete,” a childlike African caricature dressed in fancy clothes with ruby-red lips, who is sometimes Santa’s helper, sometimes an angry slave that works for Sinterklaas.

Williams discovers that Black Pete is a fiercely – and controversially-defended tradition, but it’s also a tradition that many people see as hostile and offensive – an odd cultural juxtaposition for a society that is globally-known for its avant-garde cultural inclusiveness. Williams speaks with art and cultural historians who outline the history of the tradition – and the political challenges – even extending to the Prime Minister’s defense of the tradition – that are associated with pointing out the hurtful images that remind many of slavery. Along the way, Williams also explores the complicated relationship of the Dutch to their colonial history and the global slave trade.

Williams also speaks with Black Pete protestors, and explores how even today, Dutch children are still learning to practice a custom that seems of a bygone era.

BLACKFACE runs approximately 15 minutes and is available via, CNNgo, and across CNN’s mobile properties. For a preview of BLACKFACE, please visit The film is presented across CNN’s digital platforms exclusively by Volkswagen.

CNN’s fall doc short series launched in November with ALL-AMERICAN FAMILY, directed by award-winning filmmaker Andrew Jenks, and produced and directed by Jenks and Daniel Zinn through Andrew Jenks Entertainment.

CNN’s spring-released short films included UBAH!, about the uncommon life of Somalian supermodel and philanthropist Ubah Hassan, directed by Joe Berlinger; RAISING RYLAND, a journey inside the transgender experience as lived by a six-year-old boy, directed by Sarah Feeley; and THE 414S: THE ORIGINAL TEENAGE HACKERS, about a small, talented group of Milwaukee teens who hacked into dozens of prominent computer systems – including the Los Alamos National Laboratory – during the early days of the Internet, directed by Michael T. Vollmann.

About CNN Films

CNN Films produces and acquires documentary feature and short films for theatrical and festival exhibition and distribution across CNN’s multiple platforms.  Amy Entelis, evp of talent and content development, and Courtney Sexton, senior director for program development, oversee the strategy for CNN Films. For more information about CNN Films, please visit,, and follow @CNNFilms via Twitter.

About CNN

CNN Worldwide is a portfolio of two dozen news and information services across cable, satellite, radio, wireless devices and the Internet in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. Domestically, CNN reaches more individuals on television, the web and mobile devices than any other cable TV news organization in the United States; internationally, CNN is the most widely distributed news channel reaching more than 271 million households abroad; and CNN Digital is a top network for online news, mobile news and social media. Additionally, CNN Newsource is the world’s most extensively utilized news service partnering with hundreds of local and international news organizations around the world. CNN is division of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner Company.