The Black Candle is about belonging. A mesmerizing indie documentary embodying the search for commonality in the African American community, The Black Candle might have become a confluence of diverse influences, but in the hands of award-winning writer-director-producer, M.K. Asante, Jr., the story of Kwanzaa becomes an unforgettable tale of the joyous coming together of a people within a people.
When asked if they knew what Kwanzaa was, comments among the young interviewed across the U.S., Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, ranged from “It’s Christmas,” to “It’s about love,” to “I just don’t know. What is it?” In the film itself, the late, brilliant New York writer, James Baldwin, says, “There are days … when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it.”
25-year-old author-filmmaker-professor M.K. Asante, Jr. answers that question by taking us into another world, a world of love, art, jubilance, dedication, pride and struggle.
Everyone looks for connection, some of us through family history handed down through the generations, internet searches for old friends, and genealogical quests about where we come from and answers to “Why am I here?” Until The Black Candle, it was not apparent to all of us that U.S. schools mainly teach about the history and culture of Europe, with little about Africa.
Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga to correct that unfortunate omission. African- American yearning for such recognition is evident in the fact that, in a mere 42 years, Kwanzaa has become a worldwide celebration from December 26th through January 1st. The name comes from a Pan-African phrase meaning first fruit, a celebration of the harvest. It is a time to gather together in thanks for the creator’s bounty, commemorate the past, recommit to the highest cultural ideals, and to celebrate the Good of life, existence, family, community, culture, and the divine.
The Kwanzaa symbols of three green, three red, and one black candle represent the Principles of Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. These Principles are exemplified by the non-commercialization of Kwanzaa, something no other holiday seems able to have managed.
Vibrant colors permeate The Black Candle literally, figuratively, and musically as Asante explores fact and opinion worldwide. Scholars, scientists, artists, historians, choreographers and musicians speak out (or tap out), along with students and non-conforming ordinary people, all embodying the search for common ground. Kwanzaa is it.
Narrated by Maya Angelou, produced by Ben Haaz, edited by Ted Griffis, music by Grammy-award winning team of Nnenna Freelon and Derrick Hodge, The Black Candle also features comments by Rappers stic.man (Dead Prez), Precise Science, and Chuck D (Public Enemy).
Other standout interviews from award-winning participants are Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kiri Davis (at the age of 14, she directed “A Girl Like Me”), author Amiri Baraka, poet/singer Sunni Patterson, and artist/writer Synthia Saint James.
“Documentary is a form that was created in hell,” said Sundance Lab Creative Advisor, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz. When The Black Candle is submitted there for the 2009 Festival, we’ll see if he changes his mind.
For more on the film, and to see its trailer, head over to TheBlackCandle.com