While doing seemingly unrelated research on the web some years ago, I got an unexpected clue from an old Russian painting that we don’t know even half as much about St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) in America as we think we do. Never in a million cups of spiked eggnog would I have guessed that, in the much older holiday customs of the Dutch, St. Nicholas has, instead of elves, an African sidekick – who’s Muslim to boot! And you could’ve knocked me over with a snowflake when I learned how in the old icons of Italy, Russia, Spain and elsewhere, even the patron saint of Christmas himself is pictured as a grandfatherly-looking Black man.
On the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it comes to mind that from day one our society and culture have been heavily influenced by film. The recent slavery-related films, “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg, and “Django Unchained,” directed by Quentin Tarantino, will have a social, economic and psychological impact.