In the summer of 2006, I began working with Dr. Maya Angelou on The Black Candle, a feature documentary film that explores the African-American experience through the prism of Kwanzaa. Dr. Angelou narrates the film and we worked on the script together. Over the course of making the film, I gained tremendous insights into the story of Kwanzaa which is really the story of a people; where we were, were we are, and where we are going.

Did you know that…

1. Kwanzaa is celebrated by roughly 20 million people worldwide.

We filmed Kwanzaa celebrations in Jamaica, London, South Africa, Ghana, Toronto, and Paris. In Paris, for instance, we were astonished when we filmed an all-day Kwanzaa celebration in Saint-Denis with roughly 1,000 celebrants. “Nous célébrons Kwanzaa aussi,” they told our crew.

2. Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, nor is it an alternative to Christmas.

There is a lot of misinformation about Kwanzaa; the ‘religious’ myth is probably the most common misunderstanding of the holiday. Interestingly, in stark contrast, one of the things that was fascinating to learn was the vital role that the black church played in Kwanzaa’s growth. Black churches around the country, especially those rooted in black liberation theology – churches like Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United in Chicago, Pastor Willie Wilson’s Union Temple in Washington, DC, or Pastor Frederick Haynes’ Friendship West in Dallas – introduced Kwanzaa to their congregations and incorporated its principles into their sermons.

3. Hip Hop played an instrumental role in Kwanzaa’s growth in the eighties and early nineties.

I received a great deal of support from the hip hop community during the making of the film. Artists like Dead Prez and Chuck D discussed how hip hop made them culturally aware and educated them. Stic.man from Dead Prez talked about learning about Kwanzaa from hip hop. Chuck D talked about promoting Kwanzaa through Public Enemy and how they influenced a generation of African-Americans to celebrate themselves. Additionally, Kwanzaa and hip hop are both African-American cultural inventions with strong elements of continental African cultures.

4. While Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African holiday, it can be and is celebrated by people of different races.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa explains that “other people can and do celebrate it, just like other people participate in Cinco de Mayo besides Mexicans; Chinese New Year besides Chinese; Native American pow wows besides Native Americans.”

5. The Black Candle is the first feature film on Kwanzaa.

The film features hip hop icon Chuck D, NFL legend Jim Brown, and Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga. The Black Candle premieres nationwide on TV One on December 26th, at Noon.

Happy Kwanzaa and Happy Holidays!