Joining what is proving to be a banner year for movies by black filmmakers including "12 Years a Slave," "Lee Daniels’ The Butler" and "Fruitvale Station": Three films with yuletide themes and settings timed to the holiday season.
All come bearing plots that center on family and friends as well as source material that is already familiar to much of their target audiences. Where they differ is in tone and MPAA rating -- the better to spread the cheer among all ages.
"The Best Man Holiday," which opened to a strong $30.6 million and nearly beat "Thor: The Dark World" in its second week, is an R-rated reunion of old friends that were first introduced in 1999’s comedy "The Best Man." Since that time, the careers of such cast members as Terrence Howard, Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Harold Perrineau Jr., Regina Hall, Sanaa Latham, Nia Long and Taye Diggs have taken off.
Even up against a record-smashing juggernaut like "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" this weekend, "The Best Man Holiday" worked its counterprogramming magic, pulling in an estimated sturdy $12.5 million -- good enough for third place behind "Thor" again -- for a total $50.4 million.
“The reason for bringing everyone back could have been anything,” says Malcolm D. Lee, the writer and director of both "Best Man" films. “I had an idea in my head and had been writing down notes since 2005. Christmas seemed the perfect event since holidays are a time for reflection, looking at the year ahead and making resolutions.”
"Black Nativity," opening this Wednesday to take advantage of Thanksgiving, is an uplifting PG-rated musical. It expands upon Langston Hughes’ 1961 off-Broadway version of the birth of Jesus, and has become a holiday staple -- seen by about 250,000 people each year -- with a Harlem-based tale of how a reverend’s broken family learns to heal its past grievances.
Writer-director Kasi Lemmons ("Eve’s Bayou") has gathered a stellar cast headlined by Jennifer Hudson (in her first tune-filled movie since "Dreamgirls"), Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett . Joining them are such musical acts as Nas, Tyrese, Mary J. Blige (as a platinum Afro-sporting angel) and teen newcomer Jacob Latimore. Noted R&B producer Raphael Saadiq took charge of the soundtrack, which features gospel standards such as "Rise Up," "Shepherd," and "Follow" along with new songs including Hudson’s tearful ballad, "Test of Faith."
Producer Celine Rattray says while the music is a major attraction, the family’s situation will touch many. “People are really moved by this emotional story,“ she says. “It’s coming out at a challenging period when there’s a lot of emotional issues, and the film is about putting those differences aside. Many say it reminds them of their childhood. It has a lovely message.“