FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Unity, self-determination, creativity, purpose, cooperative economics, collective responsibility and faith. Those are the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa, the December celebration that honors the roots and traditions of the African-American experience. Author and film maker M.K. Asante, Jr. celebrated Kwanzaa as a child. Now, he's made a documentary about how the holiday developed, and why people celebrate. It's called "The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration." And he's here to talk about it. How are you?
Mr. M.K. ASANTE, JR. (Author; Director, "The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration"): Hey, I'm great. Thanks so much for having me on. Peace to you and all your listeners.
CHIDEYA: Thank you. So what do you remember - what's like in your first Kwanzaa memory?
Mr. ASANTE, JR.: The first Kwanzaa memory I had was being in school and, you know, they did - it was an all-school auditorium, and you know, we had Christmas and we had Hanukkah recognized, you know. And I remember standing up in front of, like, a thousand, you know, people in my school and saying, you know, what about Kwanzaa? And I was about nine or ten years old at the time.
And you know, that was a real significant moment in my life, because what I did was I recognized, you know, what I celebrated, you know, my cultural holiday. And ever since that moment, they began to institute Kwanzaa, you know, into the school as part of their annual holiday celebration. So I feel like, you know, today, with the film and with what I'm doing now, is kind of an extension of the work that I started when I was 10 years old.
CHIDEYA: You have some pretty incredible people in this film. You know, you have younger, older people who are academics. Who's your - I wouldn't say your favorite, but what's one interview that you particularly enjoyed?
Mr. ASANTE, JR.: Well, you know, when I got the idea for the film, you know, I called Dr. Maya Angelo. And you know, I said, Dr. Maya Angelo, I want to make a film that uses Kwanzaa as a vehicle to celebrate the African-American experience. And when I told her that, she said to me - she said, we must make this film.
And from that moment on, she worked with me. We collaborated together. She became the narrator of the film, she wrote poetry for the film. And that experience, working with her, being side-by-side with her, collaborating, was just a remarkable experience for me as a human being, but also, obviously, as a filmmaker. So that was something that really stood out to me.
And as well, of course, working with the founder of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga, was a really important experience, you know, and really invaluable in terms of the film. So both of those experiences were really incredible for me.
CHIDEYA: Now, we have a little bit of Maulana Karenga from your film. Let's take a listen.
(Soundbite from "The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration")
Mr. MAULANA KARENGA (Founder, Kwanzaa): Kwanzaa insists on us facing our African-ness, appreciating it and raising it to the level of sacred observance. We get our sense of self from how we assert ourselves in the world.
CHIDEYA: How do you interpret what he's saying there, about getting your sense of who you are in the world?
Mr. ASANTE, JR: Oh, I think it's so important that, you know, people, all people, understand where they're from and not be ashamed of where they came from. So I think it's vital and instrumental, especially in this, you know, timely era that we're in, you know, to recognize, you know, where we come from. And for African-Americans, that clearly is Africa, and I think it's important to embrace that.
So I think that's what's he's speaking to, and I think that's what the film speaks to. Being proud of who you are, embracing your heritage. You know, there's an Adinkra symbol in the Ghanaian tradition. The bird, the sankofa bird, and it says that one must return back in order to move forward. You know, one must return to one's path on order to move forward. So I think that's what the film does, and that's what Dr. Karenga is speaking on there.
CHIDEYA: I have to ask you about this. He was convicted of assault for torturing two women who are part of a black nationalist group. Do you ever talk to him about that time in his life? And does it give you any pause that the person who started this holiday that's celebrated by so many people has this as part of his life?
Mr. ASANTE, JR: You know, for me with this film, I'm focusing on the seven principles. I'm focusing on celebrating the best of African-American history and culture. So for me, that's been my main focus, you know, with this project since day one. And I would say for the people who think about those things to reconsider what was happening as far as the COINTELPRO in this country. The Counter Intelligence Program that the FBI started was a plan to disrupt and neutralized, sometimes kill, assassinate and defame the leaders of the 1960s. So when people like, you know, Fred Hampton were murdered and people like Huey Newton were arrested and shot, I mean, all of this is about the COINTELPRO.
Mr. ASANTE, JR: So I would just, you know, ask people to remember what was happening in that time.
CHIDEYA: Let me jump in, because we did do a big piece on COINTELPRO. It's a lot of history people should know, and I will blog about it on our blog. But I want to give you a final note about this film. Just in a brief time, what are you planning on doing for Kwanzaa this year?
Mr. ASANTE, JR: Well, you know, I'm so happy to be able to screen this film all over the world. So basically, every day of Kwanzaa, I'll be in a new city screening this film. We've been screening this film all month. It's been a tremendous, overwhelming experience. Thousands of people have been coming out, celebrating Kwanzaa with us, watching this film. Because this film, you know, is a celebration of the culture, the history, the heritage. It gives people a way to identify with the seven principles. So you can look on our website, theblackcandle.com, and that's where we list, you know, all the different screenings that I'll be at.
CHIDEYA: All right.
Mr. ASANTE, JR: There are screenings that are happening all across the country. So I'll be at screenings, celebrating, you know, with people all around the country.
CHIDEYA: Well, happy Kwanzaa.
Mr. ASANTE, JR: Happy Kwanzaa to you, too. Thanks so much, Farai.
CHIDEYA: Thank you. That was author and film maker M.K. Asante, Jr. He wrote, directed and produced the film, "The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration."
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