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Tyrese, Nas, Luke James, Jacob Latimore Join Kasi Lemmons' 'Black Nativity' Musical; Raphael Saadiq Scoring

by Tambay A. Obenson
January 29, 2013 10:12 AM
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We can now add Tyrese Gibson, Luke James, singer Jacob Latimore and rapper Nas to the cast of Fox Searchlight's Kasi Lemmons' musical Black Nativity, which is now back on track, as previously reported, after a brief hiatus, due to the fact that an actor to play the lead male role had yet to be secured.

Recapping... The project initially had Samuel L. Jackson's interest, as well as Laurence Fishburne's, and several other *name* black actors in that age group, but they all reportedly passed on the project. It wasn't entirely clear exactly why all of these actors passed on the role (although it was noted that Samuel's asking price may have been too much for the film's reported $10 million budget). It was stated that the role needed an actor who could sing, and be believable as the father of Jennifer Hudson (who's already attached to star in the project).

It was eventually revealed that Forest Whitaker had been cast as the male lead, with Angela Bassett also attached to star in the film as J-Hud's mother (now Whitaker's wife), in a work that's 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."

Lemmons is directing from her own screenplay, and Raphael Saadiq is writing the music for this musical, by the way.

No word yet on what roles exactly that Tyrese, Luke James, Jacob Latimore and Nas are playing in the film.

Shooting has begun in New York City, so get your cameras out New Yorkers!

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  • ALM | January 31, 2013 6:25 PMReply

    Chile, they have added some sangan (yes, sangan folks) to this cast.

  • anwar | January 29, 2013 10:49 PMReply

    Shooting around Marcus Garvey park this week...!

  • PK | January 29, 2013 10:17 PMReply

    I've seen some pics of the cast on Luke James instagram. Didn't piece the characters together though.

  • August | January 29, 2013 2:45 PMReply

    Nas will be one of the three wise-men. I'm not saying that's the role that I want him to do, but i'm saying that's the role he will probably do.

  • CareyCarey | January 29, 2013 1:58 PMReply

    I could wile away the hours conferrin' with the flowers, consultin' with the rain. And my head I'd be scratchin' while my thoughts were busy hatchin', if I only had a brain. I'd unravel any riddle for any individ'le in trouble or in pain.

    I know, I know... why am I singing the Scarcrow's song "If I only Had A Brain"? Well, I guess, subconsciously I'm thinking this endeavor could be heading down a yellow brick road. So, I guess I am wondering who's the brains behind this?

    Listen, on the surface there's a few great name attached to this project. Heck, you can't go wrong with the names Kasi Lemmons, Forrest Whitaker and Langston Hugh. And Jennifer Hudson has proven she can blow up a musical, but hold that thought.

    Enter stage left, Angela Bassett and the rest of those newly added no-acting clowns. I mean, can we agree that Angela has lost whatever loving feeling she once had. Listen, acting, in my opinion, is about feelings, behavior and details. Our words do not fully explain what we are feeling, so it's the small details in our "behavior"/gestures ( facial and body language) which gives the appearance that the actor's response just came to their head, not a rehearsed "act". Unfortunately, Angela has lost that loving feeling. As of late, she always looks like she's "acting".

    And, we're talking about a musical. In that art form, if a person cannot act, they're basically dead in the water. Now, of course, that depends on the focus of the film. I'm immediately reminded of the hit musical Les Miserables. I loved everything about it. Now, the begging question is why was that film so successful? Hell, that's easy... the acting... it was great. And it was a great love story.

    Although many of the stars got through their singing parts (some quite convincingly), it wasn't the singing that turned heads. So, although Jennifer Hudson can blow with the best (got an Oscar to prove it) I wonder if she can be the silver lining in this nativity musical? And, I don't see the skills of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hatheway and Eddie Redmagne in the motley crew who was added to this cast. So, here I go again... "with the thoughts they'd be thinkin' they could be another Lincoln, if they only had a brain."

  • CareyCarey | January 29, 2013 8:52 PM

    Yeah D. C., I agree, Rafael has huge skills. But using Nas, a rap artist, to fill seats in this genre is akin to selling swim suits at a nudist colony.

    But yeah, for me, it's always about the acting. And, as I've always said, an African American cast, regardless of the genre, will always be a hard sell. And, as you mentioned, this being a "Holiday film" makes the task even more daunting.

    And check this, Langston Hughes was a well-documented agnostic, so it's ironic that he helped start the trend of gospel musicals. His Black Nativity only ran for 57 performances at the off-Btoadway 41st theater (1961). His next "Tambourines To Glory 1963) only ran for 3 weeks. The general complaint with gospel musicals of that period was that they didn't bother with tightly structured cause and affect plots. It was said that in lieu of original scores, gospel tunes were yanked from the store-house of traditional songs. To the theater purists, the end result was not so much a dramatic event as a song concert masquerading as a musical play. So hey, if Kasi Lemmons plans to lean toward a "song concert" with a little touch of a play, it may work for some. I mean, as I said, very few in the cast would be considered great actors and the play wasn't a big smash, so with Rafael Saadiq writing the music, maybe we'll just "go to church". And I love gospel music.

  • D.C. Kirkwood | January 29, 2013 7:45 PM

    I co-sign on all points Carey Carey. I also would like to add that all the things you stated, plus the fact that this is a Holiday film, with an African American cast, it could be a hard sell. Maybe that's why they added NAS as a seat filler because of his huge rap fan base. I do think that Rafael is super talented and the music is going to be fantastic but we shall see.

  • starry118 | January 29, 2013 11:28 AMReply

    I've been looking forward to this film since I first heard about it...glad it's back on track!

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