Film Review: “Black Nativity” – A Christmas Gift With Urban Grit

Black Nativity Movie Poster Courtesy, Fox SearchlightThe first Christmas film of the year may be one geared towards African American audiences, but “Black Nativity” really is for everyone.  In this musical holiday film, Jennifer Hudson’s singing and acting have never seemed more beautiful and natural as she simply steals every scene.  Starring Forest Whitaker as Reverend Cornell Cobbs, “Black Nativity” gives a realistic urban feel to what is a familiar storyline about love, loss and misplaced pride.  Reverend Cobbs’ daughter, Naima (played by Hudson), ran off from Harlem as an unwed, pregnant teenager.  Years later and just before Christmas, Naima finds herself losing her Baltimore home to foreclosure and has no place to raise her now teenage son Langston.

Langston (played by Jacob Latimore) has been hardened by a life without a father or even his estranged grandparents (played by Whitaker and Angela Bassett) until he is sent to New York City to live with them.  In “Black Nativity,” a very welcome Bassett hits all the right notes as a loving Grandma longing for a grandchild to love and spoil.  Her performance reminds you of just why she is one of the best actresses of her generation.  Whitaker’s performance Reverend Cobbs is nothing superlative, but he does a nice job playing a Pastor struggling to save his struggling Congregation while devoting his energies to his annual Christmas Concert/Revival and a grandson he’s never known.

Originally a play written by Langston Hughes in 1961, “Black Nativity” loosely moors itself to its source material.  Its updating of Mr. Hughes’ work includes a song in the first act critiquing capitalism and extolling the values of non-materialism with a modern-day Joseph and Mary (played by Luke James and Grace Gibson).  Sadly, this musical number takes the nativity story and pounds it into the ground.

In addition, the filmmakers unfortunately made sure that a large “Elect Obama” campaign sticker is prominently displayed on a refrigerator opening an establishing shot inside the Cobbs’ home.  Granted in 2013, there is a much better than average chance an old 2008 sticker might be found on the refrigerator, but it seems as if this shot is an unnecessary attempt at a little political propaganda.  It doesn’t ruin the film, but it does take the viewer out of the film and back into the politicization of our daily life.  It is a shame because unless a film is directly related to politics, we usually go to the movies to be entertained and enjoy some fantasy for a few hours.  Especially, when seeing Christmas or “Holiday” films.

Jennifer Hudson and JAcob Latimore in Black Nativity. Courtesy, Fox Searchlight

Jennifer Hudson and Jacob Latimore in Black Nativity. Courtesy, Fox Searchlight

Even with those missteps, Director Kasi Lemmons has done a good job blending such talented performers and the storyline into a musical that isn’t overly “musical.”  Thankfully, “Black Nativity” has more story and dialogue than musical numbers and this actually helps to make its songs more enjoyable and have a greater impact.  However, some numbers work better than others.  While the Jesus and Mary characters may seem that they were stolen from “Rent,” the rest of the cast admirably rise to the occasion.  Tyrese Gibson does a nice job in his scenes as Tyson as does Vondie Curtis-Hall as the cagey, seen-it –all Harlem pawn shop owner.  The only weak link in the cast is the performance of Mr. Latimore’s “Langston” as he doesn’t offer many expressions outside of his “I’m a tough guy” look.  Hopefully, he’ll have a chance to show more range in future roles.

All in all, given the tough economic straits that many American households may find themselves in this year… “Black Nativity” is well worth your Christmas season time and money.  Reuniting Family and putting past differences aside at Christmas is a good message for everyone.  2.5 Stars out of 4 Stars.  “Black Nativity” is in theatres now.

 

© 2013 The Willams View

Posted in: Entertainment, Reviews

About the Author:

Jennifer Williams is an accomplished writer, interviewer and critical reviewer having written about or covered many subjects of interests. Having graduated from Tulane University, La Salle University and New York University, Kevin's career background in Politics and Civic Affairs, Public Relations, Marketing, Non-Profit Management and Filmmaking have helped inspire much of her past artistic and creative efforts. Jennifer directed and co-produced the documentary feature film, Fear Of A Black Republican. Her latest film, Rebel Song, looks at a middle-aged American Celtic Rock band and the music inspired by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Rebel Song is expected to be released in 2014. In addition to The Williams View, Jennifer is also the Entertainment and Politics Editor for Politisite, a Contributing Writer for Townhall, Breitbart's Big Hollywood, Liberatchik and Hip Hop Republican. Jennifer has been interviewed or profiled across many Media outlets such as the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Philadelphia Inquirer, Kansas City Star, L.A. Weekly; Current TV, Christian Broadcasting Network, Huffington Post Live, Al Jazeera and BET News; radio programs ranging from National Public Radio, Voice of Russia - American Edition, the Mark Davis Radio Show, the Chris Stigall Show, the Steve Deace Show, the Bob Grant Show, Victoria Taft Show, to the Michael Eric Dyson Show and many others.

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