By: Valerie Milano
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/10/23- The holiday season is often associated with joy, love, and celebration. It is a time when families come together to create cherished memories and embrace the spirit of giving. However, amidst the festivities, there is a haunting shadow that threatens to unravel the true essence of the season – racism. In the acclaimed documentary short film “American Santa,” directed by Avi Zev Weider and produced by Alexandra Berger, the spotlight is on a group of extraordinary individuals who rise above this shadow and bring boundless joy, love, and acceptance to families and children at a bustling mall. These individuals are the Black Santas of “Santas Just Like Me,” an organization conceived with the desire to provide representation to black, brown, and interracial families during the Christmas season. This short allows us to delve deeper into the message behind “American Santa” and explore the journey of these everyday heroes.
The Inspiration: Fighting Racism with Representation
The idea for “American Santa” was sparked by a powerful NPR report featuring Stafford Braxton, the founder of “Santas Just Like Me.” Braxton shared his experiences of not only bringing joy to families through Black and Brown Santas but also enduring racist pushback. His interview highlighted the persistence of racism from one generation to the next, as he recounted incidents where families rejected the Black Santa at the mall. The documentary’s director, Avi Zev Weider, who himself has faced anti-Semitic messages, was moved by Braxton’s story and determined to shed light on the resilience and grace displayed by these Black Santas in the face of adversity.
Unveiling the Story: Capturing the Highs and Lows
To capture the authentic essence of the holiday experience, Avi Zev Weider embedded closely with Stafford Braxton and the dedicated Santas of “Santas Just Like Me” at the Eastridge Mall in Gastonia, North Carolina. The immersive approach allowed Weider to provide an intimate and unapologetic look into the lives of these Black Santas. Through his lens, he exposes both the immense joy they bring to families and the unsettling challenges they face. The documentary portrays Black Santas as superhero figures, spreading love, acceptance, and representation during the Christmas season. However, it also confronts the harsh reality of racism by including racist voice messages left for Stafford Braxton, serving as a powerful counterpoint to the positivity these Santas embody.
The Message: Challenging Racism and Inspiring Conversations
At its core, “American Santa” aims to challenge, educate, and inspire meaningful conversations about the urgent need for equality and understanding. The juxtaposition of the love, acceptance, and joy spread by the Black Santas with the ugliness of racism serves as a stark reminder of the racial divide that persists in our society. By sharing the difficult experiences faced by Stafford Braxton and his fellow Santas, the documentary prompts viewers to confront the painful reality of racism and its impact on individuals and communities. It serves as a call to action, urging society to strive for a more inclusive and accepting world.
The power of “American Santa” lies in its ability to spark conversations and inspire change. Through its portrayal of the challenges faced by Black Santas, the film encourages viewers to reflect on their own attitudes towards race and acceptance. It prompts individuals to confront the prejudices that may exist within themselves and their communities, fostering a more inclusive and understanding society. By sharing the struggles and triumphs of Black Santas, “American Santa” serves as a catalyst for change, urging all of us to embrace diversity and celebrate the joy that comes from acceptance.
The Faces of American Santa: Everyday Heroes
“American Santa” features a diverse cast of Black Santas, each with their unique stories and experiences. Stafford Braxton, the founder of “Santas Just Like Me,” is at the heart of the film. His dedication to providing representation during the Christmas season is a testament to his commitment to inclusivity. Soulful Santa Maurice, Soulful Mrs. Claus, Santa Warren, Santa Bill, and Pink are just a few of the individuals who embody the spirit of American Santa. Together, they form a united front against racism, spreading love, joy, and acceptance to families and children.
“American Santa” is a celebration of diversity and resilience. It showcases the strength and grace displayed by Black Santas in the face of adversity. These everyday heroes rise above the racism that seeks to divide, embracing the spirit of Christmas and spreading joy to families of all backgrounds. The film highlights the importance of representation and the power it holds in creating a more inclusive society. By sharing their stories, “American Santa” challenges societal norms and encourages viewers to question their own biases.
The Team Behind the Film
“American Santa” is a collaborative effort, brought to life by a talented team of individuals. Avi Zev Weider takes on multiple roles, serving as the director, producer, editor, sound designer, and mixer. Alexandra Berger joins him as a producer, ensuring the seamless execution of the film. The director of photography, John Maringouin, captures the vibrant and emotional moments on screen. Loop Filmworks, the production company, provides the necessary support to bring the vision to life. Executive producers Billy Porter and D.J. Gugenheim, through their company Incognegro Productions, lend their expertise and passion to the project. The L.A. Times Studios team, led by Senior Commissioning Editor Nani Walker, plays a crucial role in bringing “American Santa” to a global audience.
From Local Success to Global Reach
“American Santa” has received widespread acclaim and recognition, earning its place on the DOC NYC Short List and being chosen as an Academy Awards contender for Best Documentary Short Film. The film has also been showcased at esteemed film festivals such as the Provincetown Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, and Montclair Film Festival. Now, thanks to the collaboration between L.A. Times Short Docs and Incognegro Productions, executive producers Billy Porter and D.J. Gugenheim have brought “American Santa” to a global audience. The film is currently streaming for free on the Los Angeles Times’ YouTube channel and latimes.com, allowing viewers from all over the world to experience the powerful message it conveys.
“American Santa” is a celebration of the human spirit and a call to action, urging us all to spread love, joy, and acceptance, not just during the holiday season but throughout the year.