Black Nativity

The beautiful thing about art is that it can be reworked. In some cases it can even be recreated to serve another purpose for another artist.

In 1961 the late celebrated writer Langston Hughes created his version of the original Nativity story with an all black cast. Fast forward five decades later, and the play is a common holiday staple for many university groups, communities, and churches.  

In Kasi Lemmon’s modern adaptation of Black Nativity; two veteran actors (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett), are grouped with a troupe of others to give us their version of the story.

A few weeks ago, a press junket for the film was held in Los Angeles which I attended. Done in conference fashion, there were no individual one-on-one's with the talent, as they were typically paired up with multiple members of the press at one time, all throwing questions at them. 

Therefore this is more of a summary of the junket roundtable conferences with the cast, than your typical person-to-person interview.

First, here are Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker:

How they felt about singing in a film?

ANGELA BASSETT: I grew up singing on the church choir, and on the gospel choir in college. But, I never had any solo’s (Laughter).

FOREST WHITAKER: We were lucky. Kasi set it up so we had great singing rehearsals. I sung all of my parts. There were a few songs that were not in the final cut that I sung too.

Highlights of working on this film?

FOREST WHITAKER: Working with her (looks at Angela).

ANGELA BASSETT: Working with him (looks at Forest).

FOREST WHITAKER: It was a great challenge too; it’s a musical.

On Forest Whitaker's first role where he is singing and a pastor. 

ANGELA BASSETT: Every day, and every moment he’s always trying to dig deeper. He wanted to discover more. How to build bridges between characters; He’s always questioning.

FOREST WHITAKER: I studied the scripture as well as this play to prepare for this role. I was fortunate that I was able to rehearse well with the choir as well.

How Angela got into character for the role of first lady?

ANGELA BASSETT: I took a lot from the first lady at my church is very poised and precious. But she is so warm and supportive. She always tries to build up everyone. She’s always so proud of everyone.

On Black Nativity being a film about forgiveness.

ANGELA BASSETT::Well I’ve had to deal with it personally with my family. It’s like you think if I don’t say anything that it will all just work its self on out. Or it will go away. But it doesn’t. The film was able to open up those issues.

Forest Whitaker directed Angela Bassett, the late Whitney Houston, Lela Rochon, Loretta Devine and others in Waiting Exhale. Forest briefly discussed a possible remake.

FOREST WHITAKER: It’s difficult to try to see what we will do next with the passing of Whitney. We may find a solution to make it work. I needed to step away from that project to reassess it.

How the two co-stars created chemistry in the really intense scenes.

ANGELA BASSETT: We did spend time together with the singers and dancers (other actors); they were so special and warm. It began to feel like a family; as a church should be. And that what comes across on the screen.

Black Nativity will be seen by many audiences as a faith-based film. Forest shared why he believes those kinds of films are becoming more popular?

FOREST WHITAKER: There is an audience that follows the films. They want an outlet to express their spirituality.

On the next page is a summary of the roundtable with Jennifer Hudson and Jacob Latimore.