By Alicia Adejobi
It wouldn’t be Christmas without watching classics such as Home Alone, The Holiday, Love Actually and Elf for the umpteenth time while snuggled on the sofa with a mulled wine and mince pie.
You can also throw Die Hard into the schedule if you’re one of the many who believe it definitely is a Christmas movie.
However, there’s a whole potentially untapped ‘sub-genre’, if you will, of Christmas movies only seen by those in the know but also worthy of attention.
That is, the Black Christmas movie.
The term ‘Black movie’ is decades old in itself, reserved for films with an all-Black or majority Black cast and separate to mainstream Hollywood.
It’s where the likes of Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Gabrielle Union, Samuel L Jackson and Queen Latifah, got their start or rose to prominence.
Black actors have often spoken out about the struggles of earning roles outside of stereotypical characters like gang members, prostitutes or the sidelined best friend in mainstream Hollywood.
However, films with an all-Black cast offer room for more opportunities so they can be it all.
This is where they can be the lead character who is CEO at a company or the mastermind behind an ingenious scheme in addition to the supporting roles which are also important.
Black movies can also show the true spirit of family in a wholesome light and there’s no better time for that than Christmas.
Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas is just as wild and outrageous as you’d expect from the entertainer’s iconic character. It follows the quick-talking matriarch trying to reunite her niece with her family and features some surprises and bumps along the way. Overall, it’s funny and feel-good with, of course, a happy ending.
The Best Man Holiday, starring Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long and Sanaa Lathan, is undeniably more of a tear-jerker with some devastating news among the best friends as they reunite over Christmas. Despite some of the shady behaviour spilling over from the first installment, the unity of family ultimately wins the day.
Black Nativity refuses to sugar-coat the struggles of being a single parent and a teenager trying to find his identity. However it follows Langston (Jacob Latimore) as he embarks on an inspirational journey and discovers the true meaning of family, life, love and friendship.
Almost Christmas, The Perfect Holiday and most recently Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey are among the other Black Christmas movies projecting a wholesome and heartwarming narrative.
With that in mind, how important are Christmas movies to a Black actor’s portfolio and their audience?
Sharon Rose, star of Netflix’s Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey and the West End’s Hamilton, Nina Simone once said that it is the artist’s duty to reflect the times. I’d like to add to that by saying that artists are called to suspend our reality for just a moment and create a world of possibilities.
‘One where anyone, no matter where they are in the world and what they look like, could be the hero of their own story. With reality where it is right now, Christmas movies by people of colour such as Jingle Jangle, A Christmas Journey are so important.’
Sharon continued: ‘Since this film came out, I have received countless messages and videos from people in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Brazil, USA, Europe and all over the world saying their children saw themselves for the first time in a Christmas movie and that it had become an instant family tradition for them because this was so rare.
‘There is no denying that representation matters.’
The actress feels that groundbreaking movies and TV series such as Crazy Rich Asians or Netflix’s Never Have I Ever remind young children of colour that ‘their dreams are valid too’ and that they don’t just have to be the sassy best friend or aggressive delinquent.
Or, even worse, the ‘other’.
‘Movies and TV shows are some of the first ways our children are exposed to societal ideals,’ Sharon explained.
‘So why not reflect the diversity of the world we live in? Not only in this, but there is an outpouring on social media for young people to connect with their favourite artists/actors/singers and businesses like Cameo and Idols are growing for this very reason.
‘Diversity and inclusion are not just the way of the world, they are a crucial part of who we are becoming and society should follow suit. We’ll only be better for it,’ she added.
Erica Ash, who stars in Miss Me This Christmas and its sequel You Can’t Fight Christmas, recalls ‘having a blast’ on set of the films in which she plays Regina Young embroiled in love drama.
‘I had a lot of fun doing both movies. I always say the real show is behind the scenes,’ Erica said of working with an all-Black cast.
On the representation of Black families in festive films, the actress continued: ‘I think it’s particularly poignant because Christmas movies across the board are the least threatening of all genres.
‘Now with the Black Lives Matter movement being so prevalent it’s great to have multigenerational families/groups gather and see Black people as we are: normal. There’s nothing that happens in our culture (save certain traditions) that doesn’t happen in other cultures.
‘It’s just unfortunate that most of the bad things are highlighted and thus the media perpetuates negative stereotypes on an entire race.’
Erica has also noticed the improvement of Black actresses being offered auditions or landing more acting jobs in recent years.
However she warns: Certainly… but we’re not quite there yet.
‘Until Black actresses stop being relegated to films with mostly or all Black casts and until the one Black person quota stops being the ceiling for so many predominantly white productions, we still have work to do. TV and film should look the way that most US citizens’ environments look on a daily basis: multi-ethnic, cultural, gender associated, sexually preferenced, etc.’