Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

Is ‘Black Nativity’ a ‘Blacks Only’ Film? The Celebrities Respond

posted by jtotey

Now Playing (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Now Playing (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

In 2009, my wife and I went to see the movie, Not Easily Broken based on the T.D. Jakes novel of the same name. The story was about a husband and wife facing difficulties in their marriage. The movie not only featured a predominately African American cast, but most of those in attendance of the screening were too. Though we enjoyed the movie, we felt a little out of place. When talking to others about the film, many of my “white” friends had never heard of it. Was this movie not intended for us? Was this considered a “black” movie?

“Well, that’s an interesting question,” said Pastor Jakes in a recent interview I had with the man last month. “I see them as movies, as art that anybody would enjoy and I don’t make them necessarily or get involved with them with black people in mind. I do them with people in mind. I think we have a tendency to reflect the world that we live in. I think that’s a part of it.”

In the new Christmas movie, Black Nativity, the cast is 99% African American including such greats as Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige and Jacob Latimore. It’s a very good holiday movie, though I fear some of us might shy away from it based on the title alone which is a shame. Apparently, I’m not alone with this thought.

“I think it’s a problem,” says Forest Whitaker. “The Langston Hughes play in the movie is just like a church doing their nativity story – every church does it. I think if the name or theme on what the movie was really about, the reconciliation of a family and a community, and it had some title more about the family that prays or whatever it is, then I think that the audience that wasn’t black would [appreciate] it. So I think that it’s possible, but I hope not. I think that the movie is just about love, family and community, but I thought about it.”

“I think it’s universal. I always did. Whether or not those cross, you just never know. I write movies honestly for myself,” says Kasi Lemmons, writer and director of the film. “Usually there’s a little something I have to get off my chest or there’s some entry way to some material like Black Nativity that really comes from me and something I’m trying to say.”

“I think it’s like the blues. It’s all ‘black’ but ‘white’ people love it,” adds Raphael Saadig, who along with Laura Karpman, was responsible for the music in the film. “I think this film exposes what we are to a huge audience.”

This is true. Set entirely in Harlem neighborhood of New York, Black Nativity will give outsiders a look into the urban community and hopefully see, even in this day and age, that we are not so different. It’s about a young mother (Jennifer Hudson) who sends her son (Jacob Latimore) to live with his grandparents (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett) whom he has never met.

“It’s about love, family, forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation…those ideals are human and music is universal and creative,” says Bassett. “So, the people happen to be black, but they’re family. They love their child. They made mistakes. They’re trying to right them, to correct them. So, I don’t think that there’s ‘no way in.’ There’s no way that a white person would say, ‘I cannot understand this.’ It’s not a foreign language at all.”

“I hope that people don’t nuance and say, ‘Oh, that’s a black film.’” Adds Jakes. “It’s a people film and think that people should have the courage today, in the 21st century, to go in there and enjoy it. And I think they will. You know, there have been movies like The Help and the demographics of the audience that came out to see it was largely Caucasian. Some of those stereotypical ideas that are indicative of America are starting to fade away a bit. When I was in Europe I noticed that. I went to several black gospel concerts and the crowd was predominately Caucasian. I think that America is starting to venture out a little bit and certainly people of faith. It is an indictment against the tenants of our faith if we remain nuanced and yet we say that we are going to one heaven.”

“So many people are not familiar with Langston Hughes,” says Bassett, “But hopefully they will love Forest, you know? Hopefully the stars in the film will draw interest and help people [push aside] any ideas on what they think it might be or fears of having to relate.”

“Once I read it, (the script), I fell in love with just the idea of all the different elements like church element and family element and holiday element, says Hudson. “Seeing all those different elements, it made me want to be a part of it because we don’t have enough of that around today.”
To read my review of the musical, click here.

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