Over a hundred Dutch celebs protest broadcaster over blackface Zwarte Piet

More than 100 Dutch celebrities, including directors, actors and athletes, wrote an open letter to broadcaster NTR on Friday asking that the appearance of controversial Sinterklaas character Zwarte Piet be updated to fit a multicultural society, NRC reports based on the letter in its possession.

According to the signatories, NTR was "specially created to serve so-called vulnerable groups and genres". The broadcaster plays an important role in the Zwarte Piet debate as its show Sinterklaasjournaal is the one who brings Sinterklaas into the homes in the Netherlands.

The celebrities ask NTR whether a "multicultural society" can really tolerate "such a stereotypical image of black people". They point out that the international community can't understand Zwarte Piet. "Even the United Nations ruled that the Sinterklaas celebration propagates racism with this caricature - particularly among children".

The letter writers also feels that Zwarte Piet brings racism to the surface. "The reactions of so-called advocates of Zwarte Piet on social media are full of xenophobia, aggrieved nationalism and intolerance", they write.

The letter was sent to NTR on the day that the Mayor of Maassluis announced that the Piets at the national arrival of Sinterklaas this year will be mostly black. Signatories include Candy Dulfer, Patrick Kluivert, Monic Hendrickx, Humberto Tan, Paul de Leeuw and Eirk van Muiswinkel - who announced his resignation as head Piet on the Sinterklaasjournaal last week.

NTR took the weekend to carefully read the letter and managing director Paul Romer and media director Carel Kuyl responded on Monday. The told NRC that it is "clear and obvious" that Zwarte Piet will have to change. The process started 10 years ago and the only issue now is "the way and especially the speed of that change".

They referred to the Sinterklaasjournaal of 2006, in which the steamboat with the Piets sailed through a rainbow and changed the Piets color. "That year for the first time blue, red, yellow and orange Piets ran around. The NTR received a wave of criticism about that and even parliamentary questions were asked." In 2014 NTR alsomade a change introducing a variety of Piets, including white ones and ones covered in soot with the story line that Piets become blacker as they go down the chimney. The final shot of that year's season showed Sinterklaas and Opa Piet riding off as equals. 

"A year later the story line was continued. Thanks to a magic stone, the Piets no longer have to go through the chimney. More White Piets were added." the director said.