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Fox Shelves Kasi Lemmons' 'Black Nativity;' Trouble Casting Black Male Lead (Let's Help Them!)

by Tambay A. Obenson
September 13, 2012 11:48 AM
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Samuel L Jackson

Unfortunate news... I know many of you folks were excited when we first reported this.

Fox Searchlight is shelving its planned Kasi Lemmons' musical Black Nativity, just weeks before it was scheduled to begin production in early October.

Why? The project, which initially had Samuel L. Jackson's interest, cannot find an actor to play its male lead. THR says that Jackson, as well as Laurence Fishburne, and several other *name* black actors in that age group, all passed on the project.

Strange, isn't it? The report doesn't say exactly why all of these actors are passing on the role (although it notes that Samuel's asking price may have been too much for the film's reported $10 million budget). It does state that the role needs an actor who can sing, and be believable as the father of Jennifer Hudson (who's already attached to star in the project).

With that list of criteria - old enough, can sing, and be a recognizable *name* actor willing to work within a $10 million budget - the pool of available actors is a very small one. 

This of course speaks to the practically non-cultivation of black actor/stars in Hollywood. But that's a topic we've beaten to death here on S&A.

Angela Bassett is also attached to star in the film as J-Hud's mother (would've been Samuel's wife, had he stayed on the project), which is based on Langston Hughes' Broadway gospel musical.

The project has actually been in the works since 2009, when we first announced it. The story centers on a young black teen from Baltimore, who is sent to Harlem by his mother to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged grandparents. The boy then learns the real meaning of faith and family when his grandfather delivers a Christmas Eve sermon and "a stylized, dream-sequence retelling of the classic Nativity story."

So the project is shelved indefinitely - unless they can somehow attract the likes of Denzel Washington, or an Eddie Murphy, who are both old enough to play J-Hud's father, are both *name* black actors, although I can't vouch for their singing abilities. And they both would be willing to take pay-cuts.

What other actors can you think of who fit the criteria that the role requests?

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  • Jrob | October 11, 2012 5:26 AMReply

    TK CARTER the star of HBO'S The Corner. He can act and sing. Great all around actor and singer. He's got chops!!!!!!!! Truly a veteran.

  • Priss | September 16, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    You can't vouch for Eddie's singing abilities? Have you not heard that seminal jam Party All the Time? Google for a treat!

  • M'DeVone | September 15, 2012 9:17 AMReply

    I'll do it.


  • Rod | September 13, 2012 11:01 PMReply

    Russell Hornsby, Jeffrey Wright or James McDaniel come to mind - we need to give them a chance to become a name!

  • Donella | September 17, 2012 5:24 PM

    Wayne Brady would be an interesting choice. He was my first thought for the James Brown biopic.

  • nc277 | September 15, 2012 7:48 AM

    Yes I agree to look more. Wayne Brady could definitely do it.

  • ALM | September 13, 2012 10:23 PMReply

    I guess that they will go with a lesser known or unknown actor. I wonder how similar this is to Kenny Leon's "Black Nativity" play that runs every Christmas? I'm with Lovesfilmnmusic. Ben Vereen would be excellent. I also like Accidental Visitor's suggestion of Keith David.

  • Akimbo | September 15, 2012 10:59 AM

    The description sounds just like the play, so it will be interesting to see if and how the execution is pulled off. And please, please don't give that HACK Kenny Leon undue credit; the story/play was originally written by Langston Hughes.

  • CareyCarey | September 13, 2012 9:45 PMReply

    Black Nativity? What is that? Is it anything like "White Nativity". Now hold on, I'm going somewhere. I asked my lady what she invisioned when I mentioned those words (Black Nativity). She tilted her head in a questioning fashion as if I was asking her a trick question, and said, "okay, I'll bite, I see a black baby in a manger." Huuuum, now I'm wondering what others "see" when they hear those words. Well, anyway, I believe it's safe to say the white audience is off the table. They ain't in no hurry to see black folks singing about Christmas. In fact, they are not interested in seeing anything "black", if they don't have to. The Cotton Club closed it's doors years ago. But here's my other point. Although it was reported that Fox Searchlight shelved Kasi Lemmons' musical because (supposedly) they cannot find an actor to play its male lead, I'm thinking otherwise. Maybe they came to their senses and realized they had a dud on their hands. Seriously, think about some of the problems with Sparkle 2012, who is the audience for this stylized, dream-sequence retelling of the classic Nativity story? And like Sparkle, without an A-list black actor, black nativity is running on fumes. Now lets go a little deeper. Excuse me, but who is Kasi Lemmons? I mean, I know who she is but what percentage of the intended audience (whoever they are) has any idea what Ms Lemmons is bringing to the table? So it's safe to say she's not a bankable draw/star. And please, Dennis Haysbert, Ben Vereen, Delroy Lindo, Obba Babatunde and Keith David??? Wow... for starters, we're talkin' an insurance salesman, Chicken George and West Indian Archie. Who are those guys behind those Foster Grants? And who has seen Obba since his Emmy nomination for playing dancing Willie in Miss Evers' Boys (1997)? Heck, we might as well get that old school dancer/singer/actor from those old 7-UP commercials, Geoffrey Holder.... " 7-UP, caffeine, never had it, never will". Black Nativity, never had "IT", never will. But let's go a little deeper. Can an actor's career suffer from being associated with a flop? Well, I'm suggesting that although some folks are laying blame at the feet of our A-listers for being money hounds, couldn't they have simply seen the writing on the wall? Angela Bassett has seen her best days and if J-Hud is not singing, she's NOT acting. Beside, I don't know about you, but I don't know who's interested in hearing the hip-hop version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". Consequently, I'm left to believe Fox Searchlight woke-up from their dream-sequence and realized 10 million may not be a lot of money, but somebodies ass -- and possibly their job -- was hanging in the wind. So they pulled up their pants, jacked-up their slacks and ran like a turkey being chased through the corn.

  • CareyCarey | September 13, 2012 10:49 PM

    @ ALM... GREAT! Since that famous guy has one, I'll have the same with eggnog on the side. But baby, have you seen Ben Vereen's acting - lately? And if one wants to turn their film into instant corny and over-the-top, get Keith David. I can't name one of his performance in which he pulled me into the character. He always appears to be "acting".

  • ALM | September 13, 2012 10:24 PM

    @ Carey Carey: The famous Broadway producer/playwright Kenny Leon also has a Black Nativity. It is similar to the original nativity, with an all African American cast and gospel/church themes woven in. It also includes ballet dancing, etc.

  • Benjamin | September 13, 2012 7:26 PMReply

    Cheadle could pull it off.

  • Julius Hollingsworth | September 13, 2012 3:02 PMReply

    I'm not a name actor (lol) . But I can do the job.

  • AccidentalVisitor | September 13, 2012 2:37 PMReply

    Keith David. The guy has worked in the business for a long time, had a major role on Broadway in the musical "Jelly's Last Jam (so we know he can sing), and has a face and voice that is familiar to audiences even if they can't place his name. Unless of course he is one of the actual actors who already turned down the part.

  • Donella | September 13, 2012 4:19 PM

    Keith David is my first choices as well. He came to my mind immediately even before I knew he could sing.

  • audiodramatist | September 13, 2012 2:36 PMReply

    Eddie can sing...and of course there is always the possibility of making Jamie look older. Delroy Lindo is probably the best choice.
    If the budget is that low; why not just get a Broadway or off-Broadway actor. How much return do they really want to make? Wouldn't quality bring the profits up?

  • starry118 | September 13, 2012 1:39 PMReply

    Delroy Lindo

  • JMac | September 13, 2012 1:21 PMReply

    I just lost some respect for Fishburne and the other "name" black actors who passed on this. Bypass all these money grubbing suckers and cast a popular black, older actress with a deep singing voice and have her play a man. Whoopi could do it. She was convincing in The Associate.

  • JMac | September 14, 2012 12:42 AM

    lol, should have known that comment would get you active again. Everybody's speculating since that's all we can do. I'm actually shocked though that you're putting blame on the studio instead of black actresses. At this point, I doubt anyone is willing to sit back and hope Hollywood starts nurturing young black talent - and if they did, it still wouldn't be in time to "save" this and other black movies already on life support or flat out dead. Lemmons name is not recognizable enough to have an unknown male in the spot. The "known" ones suggested already are no one that would make me want to watch. [Eddie cannot sing - he can mimic.] My solution is a short term solution to a problem which would make this project much more interesting and sellable. But I guess cross-dressing performances are the exclusive domain of male actors.

  • AccidentalVisitor | September 13, 2012 2:31 PM

    Aren't you jumping to conclusions a bit? Do you know for sure why any of the actors, other than Jackson, turned down the role? Could it have been the script? The production schedule? The quality of the role itself? Truth is you are only guessing at reasons why they passed; money may have not have as much to do with it as you are being led to believe. Regardless of what the reasons were, try saving your disgust for the studio/production company who shut the project down in the first place. If it is a low budget film and you already have Jennifer and Angela aboard it doesn't sound as if the film needs a Denzel Washington type in the first place. TPTB should have not pulled the plug. There are many black actors of the right age who WOULD have taken the role. Perhaps the problem is the studio only had a handful of names in mind whom they thought they could sell the movie with. Well, as tambay pointed out, this is the cost, as we have argued before, of Hollywood being so disinterested in developing/cultivating black talent. It leads to a limited pool of contestants regardless of the age group which leads to an extremely small wish-list for the people making the decisions. The studio should have simply plucked more obscure black actors who have been waiting in the wings for decades. But the film industry has no such interest in that type of black performer; it is not interested or excited about discovering black talent, even those that have been building their resumes for decades. No, the film industry seems only interested in hiring well known, Hollywood-established black actors for meaningful roles. And your solution is just as bad, perhaps even worse. You'd rather an actress get the role instead of the film handing an overdue opportunity over to a deserving middle age black actor. What a terrific idea.

  • Bohemian princess | September 13, 2012 12:24 PMReply

    Eddie can sing. Remember Dreamgirls. This could be the comeback he needs.

  • KikiDee | September 13, 2012 2:53 PM

    @Bohemian Princess, Agreed. But I do wonder if Eddie would take a pay cut. He once complained about the producers of Dreamgirls asking him to lower his rate. Although Eddie did have a point that the DG producers were billionaires who could definitely afford to pay him.

  • oba | September 13, 2012 12:09 PMReply

    Dennis Haysbert

  • Lovesfilmnmusic | September 13, 2012 12:08 PMReply


  • That Dude | September 13, 2012 11:51 AMReply

    Obba Babatunde

  • Nadia | September 13, 2012 12:06 PM

    Can he carry a film though? Is he a recognizable name? Can he carry a tune? How about Giancarlo Esposito? He's old enough, he can sing, because I know he's done some Broadway musicals, and even though he's not a big name star, with "Breaking Bad" and his Emmy nomination (which he'll probably win), he has some name recognition.

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