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Case Number 17946: Small Claims Court

Buy The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration at Amazon

The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration

Asante Filmworx // 2009 // 71 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // December 21st, 2009

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker wishes you a merry...whatever you celebrate.

The Charge

Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); Imani (Faith)
—The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

The Case

Running from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, Kwanzaa is a celebration of African American heritage, culture, and family. The holiday was created in 1966 by Malauna Karenga (nee Ron Everett). The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration offers up a history of Kwanzaa and some commentary on its significance in the black community.

Narrated by author Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), The Black Candle features mostly non-celebrity interviews (although a few famous people, like Jim Brown and Chuck D, weigh in) of people talking about what Kwanzaa means to them. These are strong and wonderful moments, particularly when the film focuses on families showing and sharing their celebrations. We also get archival footage of the civil rights movement and scenes of Kwanzaa being celebrated in France.

Each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa gets its own chapter, and we get a number of stop-offs along the way for things like Hurricane Katrina and "The Black Power Era." The approach is a little scattershot; the 71-minute film has 20 chapters, which means each chapter runs a little over three minutes. The stream of consciousness approach isn't necessarily bad, it's just not as cohesive as it could be.

The history of Kwanzaa is given a far more inclusive spin than how the holiday was, apparently, originally intended. At one point, what seems to be a newscaster soundbite states emphatically that Kwanzaa is not to be seen as alternative to "traditional" holiday celebrations like Christmas or Chanukah, but evidently, this was Karenga's intent in creating it. While many people, including some interviewed here, seem to believe that Kwanzaa originated in Africa, it is noted at around mid-point that this isn't the case. Kwanzaa is an African American celebration, co-opted with bits of African culture. Any controversies surrounding Karenga—including his felony conviction in 1971 for torturing two women—or his group, US Organization, are ignored.

The Kwanzaa presented here, then, is less about how it started and more about what it's evolved into. Historically, it's a bit Kwanzaa-lite, but it's still an effective cultural document.

The disc: decent picture (it was shot on video and looks a little home made, which is fine), good audio, with a trailer for an extra.

The Verdict

Not guilty. If you're interested in this holiday, you'll find this of interest.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Asante Filmworx
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer


• IMDb
• Official Site

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