3 Christmas movies cap a big year for African-American cinema
Time was when Christmas movies were as reliably white as a North Pole winter. Such holiday classics as “It's a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” came to define the American cultural psyche during the holidays for decades. Later films set around Santa's trip down the chimney — including the blockbuster “Home Alone” franchise with a cumulative gross of $904 million, 1994's “The Santa Clause” and 2003's “Elf” — opened Hollywood's eyes to the upside of decking theater halls with new Christmas stories.
But at the tail end of a banner year for African-American cinema, three new holiday movies written and directed by black filmmakers present an alternate vision to moviedom's traditional White Christmas.
“Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas” arrives in theaters Dec. 13 with Hollywood's preeminent African-American movie kingpin, writer-director-star Perry, in drag as his gun-toting grandmother alter ego Madea.
Already in theaters, “Black Nativity,” costarring Oscar winners Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker, is an unabashed feel-good adaptation of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes' widely staged 1961 gospel play, which chronicles the birth of Christ with African-American performers and traditional spirituals.
The movie that started the season is “The Best Man Holiday,” a pre-Thanksgiving release plotted around the Christmas reunion of an upwardly mobile group of friends and exes, which took in more than $30 million its opening weekend and has grossed an impressive $67.6 million worldwide.
For Malcolm D. Lee, “The Best Man Holiday's” writer-director, three movies aiming for the intersection of holiday togetherness and black experience this year represents a mixed blessing.
“Three black Christmas movies within six weeks of each other makes it a bit nerve-racking,” says Lee, who made his sequel to 1999's “The Best Man” for just $17 million. “But they're all so different. ‘Best Man Holiday' is a comedy-drama. ‘Madea's Christmas' is definitely a comedy. And (‘Black Nativity') is more like a ‘Les Miserables'-type of movie, a musical. That's what's great about the spectrum of African-American fare this year. There's a nice diversity of choices for audiences.”
There's also been diversity in the films' marketing plans: a “Sex and the City”-styled promo push for “The Best Man Holiday,” a Harlem Renaissance pedigree for “Black Nativity” and marquee identification with a hit movie series for “A Madea Christmas.” Just as there's not a monolithic black audience, this season's offerings show that there's not one formula for black holiday movies.
Zola Mashariki, who rose through the ranks at Fox Searchlight Films to become the studio's senior vice president of production and co-founded the African Grove Institute for the Arts with playwright August Wilson, says the sudden boom in black Christmas films is emblematic of a larger shift. The films of 2013 have effectively banished Hollywood's accepted logic that African-American movies have to be set in an “urban” milieu to connect with audiences.
“This is a time when so many different stories about black life are being told. That was the dream,” Mashariki says. “Thank God we have a time when three different black movies can be released at Christmastime!”
The African-American yuletide-movie boom is such a cultural talking point that last weekend's “Saturday Night Live” skewered the phenomenon with a satirical trailer for a fake film called “White Christmas.” It was billed as “the first black holiday movie for white people.”
Chris Lee is a staff writer for Los Angeles Times.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Extras sought for Will Smith movie filming in Pittsburgh
- DVD reviews: ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Think Like a Man Too’
- DVD reviews: ‘Neighbors,’ ‘The Rover’ and ‘We are the Best!’
- Review: Depression is comically skin-deep in ‘Skeleton Twins’