Essay

Why We Need Black Holiday Films, According to a Houston Cinephile

With movies set in Texas, and starring Houston legends, here's 5 holiday picks from an African-American perspective.

By Chloe Gray December 22, 2021

Kirk Franklin's A Gospel Christmas, is a holiday film about a female Black church pastor that's set in Texas.

While coming of age in Dallas during the 90s, my parents heavily curated the images that I viewed. Some days after school my dad would take me to independent stores to purchase books and movies on VHS, to ensure that I saw Black children and families that affirmed our existence.

It was important to them that I saw images of young Black girls getting their happy ending on film or on television. This movie curation helped me build a healthy and positive self-esteem. To this day, the only Cinderella movie I know is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997), starring Brandy Norwood.

Thirty-years later, living and working in Houston, I'm still inspired by my dad to curate what I watch for myself and others. I share movies that I like through MNC Movie Club with my best friend. We look for movies that amplify Black stories and celebrate Black filmmakers. My favorite list to curate is our "25 Days of Black Christmas," where we highlight some of our favorite classic and newly released Christmas movies.

Does representation in television and movies matter? You bet it does.

But Christmas movies present a uniquely positive opportunity for representation: holiday films are overwhelmingly positive and uplifting, giving their characters endless chances for redemption, for finding love, for gaining inner peace, for discovering the true meaning of Christmas. And, in turn, they give viewers reasons to be inspired. It's important that there are plenty of options where the inspiration comes from a Black point of view.

Yes, Christmas movies are often sappy—but it’s the one time of year where it’s okay to be sappy. Consider watching some films that focus on Black holiday joy this season,  here are 5 movies to stream, including a few with major Texas and Houston ties:

 

Our Christmas Journey

Platform: Hallmark Channel

Part of Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas, its notable lineup of Christmas movies from late October through Christmas Day, this movie stars Holly Robinson Peete, Lyriq Bent and Nik Sanchez. It's a story of an overprotective African-American mother struggling to let her autistic son become independent. It means a lot to me to be able to watch a Black actress like Peete, who I grew up seeing on television, play a role that really touches the heart in a non-stereotypical story.  

In the past, Hallmark has wrestled with the importance of representation since a controversy in 2019, over ads with same-sex couples being pulled. Since then, the company hired Wonya Lucas, a Black woman, as president and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks which is home to the Hallmark Channel.  

Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child stars in her own trilogy of Black Christmas films with the Merry Liddle Christmas series created for Lifetime.

Merry Liddle Christmas

Platform: Lifetime 

The channel aired its first Christmas trilogy with the Merry Liddle Christmas series starring Houstonian (and Destiny’s Child member) Kelly Rowland as Jacqie Liddle. Jacquie is a workaholic tech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley that is hosting her first family Christmas in her new home. This is a new take on the commonly used Christmas trope of the workaholic realizing the true meaning of love and Christmas. 

I love that the movies feature Rowland in this role of an upwardly mobile Black woman making a living in the tech sector. Each film in the series has her going through the key stages in life, from marriage to creating a family. It's beautiful.

 

A Gospel Christmas

Platform: Lifetime

Another feature with Lone Star State ties is Kirk Franklin’s A Gospel Christmas, starring Demetria McKinney and Chaz Lamar Shepherd. It's a story of an African-American female pastor sent to lead a church in Texas.

While living in the shadow of her mother, and the previous pastor of the church, she struggles to find her voice. I love how this story puts a twist on movies about the church. Traditionally, we usually see men leading churches, in both reality and in movies, so it is a breath of fresh air to watch the journey of a woman coming into her own as a church leader; while following in the footsteps of her mother.

 

Christmas Déjà Vu

Platform: BET+

BET’s Christmas lineup includes stories about loss, grief, and addiction, like Christmas Deja Vu starring Amber Riley, Blue Kimble, and Houston native Loretta Devine. It's a holiday movie about a woman struggling with grief 10 years after the death of her father on Christmas Eve.

She believes that if she is given everything she ever wanted, it will make her happy. An angel visits her at a bar, and she wakes up to the life she has always wanted, or so she thinks. I love stories of redemption and this movie does not disappoint. 

A Chestnut Family Christmas

Platform: OWN

Oprah Winfrey Network’s (OWN) A Chestnut Family Christmas is another example of a film that really made me feel the holiday spirit through a Black experience. Starring Meagan Holder, Brad James, Jaime M. Callica, and Klarc Jerome Wilson, it’s a movie about three siblings who are all struggling with living up to other people’s expectations. It also features one of my favorite Christmas movie tropes with two people pretending to be a couple during the holidays to avoid having to deal with a judgmental family that is constantly asking, "When are you going to get married?!".

If you are looking for more movies to watch over the holidays here is a list of classic and new releases currently streaming.  

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