Category Archives: Imaginary Dutch Cinema

#94 – Zwarte Piet (Black Peter)

(1921, Neth, 27 mins, b/w) Dir Dick Binger. Cast Annie Dommelen, Oscar van Victor, B. A. van der Veer.

Not so much a film as an extended skit, pretty much, this silent comedy film about the then fine and now controversial Dutch Christmas character Black Peter was a great success at the time of it’s release and until very recently was a TV seasonal fixture. To the uninitiated Black Peter is the companion to Saint Nicholas (or Sinterklaas in the Netherlands) who doles out sweets to the good children and, to the bad, a whipping with a bundle of birch twigs. The controversy? Well, Black Peter is a moor you see, who is traditionally played by a blackfaced actor in a curly wig with big red lips. In addition to this he is played in this film by Annie Dommelen who is, as her name might suggest, a woman. Needless to say debate about the suitability of this character continuing to play a part of the celebrations of Sinterklassavond on December  5th each year continues to rage. But anyway – now that the layers of cultural context are peeled back, what of the film? Well Black Peter is hopping from rooftop to rooftop as the film begins, consulting his list and tossing sweets down the chimneys of the  good. Before long he happens upon the house of a bad child and, birch bundle in hand, climbs down with great enthusiasm to beat him. A frantic chase about the house commences with Black Peter eventually coming out on top. A strange little film with more about it to frighten than amuse for this viewer but were I a Netherlander of a century ago would my opinion be different?

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