Antwerp abandons blackface for Zwarte Piet


The appearance of Sinterklaas’ helper in Antwerp has been refined “to fit in with the society of today while maintaining respect for the tradition”

Change in appearance

When Sinterklaas lands in Antwerp on 14 November, his faithful helper Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) will not be sporting the traditional blackface, according to Ketnet, the VRT channel that organises the event.

Piet will have black smudges on his face that resemble soot stains, which, according to legend, he gets from coming down the chimney. The Moorish costume will remain, but there will be no more tight curly hair, bright red lips or golden earrings.

Piet’s look will be similar to the character in the new Flemish movie Ay Ramon!, directed by Stijn Coninx and starring Jan Decleir, Tom Van Dyck, Els Dottermans and Lucas Vanden Eynde. The film (photo) was produced by Ketnet.

“Since the days of Dag Sinterklaas we’ve been aware that Piet owes his dark colour to the soot from the chimneys,” said a VRT spokesperson, referring to a TV series from the early 1990s. “Since those days, society has continued to change. The appearance of Zwarte Piet has been refined to fit in with the society of today, while maintaining respect for the Sinterklaas tradition.”

The controversy around the appearance of the Zwarte Piet character, always played by white people in blackface, has been growing in Belgium and the Netherlands in recent years. In the Netherlands, a debate over racism in the depiction of Piet has led to the introduction in some celebrations of rainbow Piets, sporting makeup in a variety of colours.

Photo: Selina De Maeyer/VRT