BY CARLOTTA MORROW
Courtesy of Christocentric Press
Editor’s Note: There are not many Kwanzaa movies that have been widely released. Therefore, “The Black Candle” has become the staple feature for the holiday. Dubbed ‘The Kwanzaa Movie’ by many, the movie is a documentary film that examines the holiday in-depth. Below is a review of the film by Carlotta Morrow, originally published on December 23, 2010 on her blog, Christocentric Press.
There were both positive and negative elements from M. K. Asante Jr.’s production of “The Black Candle,” a movie that highlights the seven-day Afrocentric celebration of Kwanzaa, an event that proposes to honor the black culture of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
The movie has its share of well known people: narrated by Maya Angelou, appearances by Asante’s father, Molefi Asante also known as the father of Afrocentricity, ex-football star and actor Jim Brown, Chuck D and Stic man of rap groups Public Enemy and Dead Prez, respectively. And also clips from the creator of Kwanzaa himself, Maulana Karenga.
But most of the interviews are of everyday people, beginning with a question being asked to many if they know about Kwanzaa and with most showing that they don’t know anything about it. The movie progresses showing the pains resulting from the past with subjects such as racism, loss of cultural identity, lack of black history in schools and more.
WHAT THE BLACK CANDLE REPRESENTS
The name of the movie is taken from the black candle of the Kwanzaa ceremony. That is the candle that represents black people and is the middle candle of seven, also representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa called the Nguzo Saba in Swahili.
Some of the positives of the movie were the showing of families coming together. There appeared a special time of gathering for the families during the Kwanzaa celebration. Showing a little about black history was also a positive, as much of black history is left out in schools. The illustration of the famous black/white doll test was always riveting no matter how many times that is repeated. This is where a black child is asked to pick out the “good” doll and the black child usually selects the white doll viewing the color black as “bad.”
Now for some of the negatives: Although using some very interesting clippings of the past (Katrina, free Mumia, the Jenna six), the author ignores the history behind Kwanzaa. The movie even starts off by incorrectly calling Kwanzaa an “African Celebration.” Even the creator of Kwanzaa stresses that Kwanzaa is an African American celebration inspired by African first fruit harvests and celebrations.
Another questionable statement was when it was said that African Americans embrace Kwanzaa because of their feelings of homelessness. Because we are supposedly looking for a home, we needed Kwanzaa. In Kwanzaa we embrace our “home” Africa.
Although (the holiday is) considered non-religious, Karenga considers Kwanzaa sacred when he said in the movie: “Kwanzaa insists on us facing our Africanness, appreciating it and raising it to the level of sacred observance.”
A reporter is heard in the background at one point in the movie describing Kwanzaa as being “not a religious observance or an alternative to Christmas.” That is a direct contradiction to what
Karenga has written in his books: that he created Kwanzaa to be an alternative to what he considered holidays created by the white man. (Kwanzaa: Origins, concepts practice, 1977, pg 21). SOME IRONY
The most striking part of the movie to me was rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy talking about the negative images of black people being made positive through Kwanzaa. This man is still a rapper with music characterized by guns, black radicalism and profanity. His form of rap is by far not considered positive at all, a point that was somehow forgotten in the production of this movie.
It was disturbing to see the movie use the likes of Chuck D and ‘Stic.man’ from the rap group Dead Prez. But what both men have in common is their black nationalism and activism, a trait that runs commonly through the movie. THE PURPOSE
The Black Candle was a movie all about uniting black people to regain a lost culture through the celebration of Kwanzaa and the practicing of all of its seven principles. Although the last principle, faith, was talked about in depth, only the little blurb at the end mentioned a faith in a “creator” but in the same sentence as faith in ones selves, parents, grandparents and community. The movie seemed to go to great lengths not to mention the name “God,” although talking about faith and a way of life to be practiced daily.