The holidays are a time for peace, joy, love for all, and family and togetherness, no matter your walk of life. For millions of families around the world, African American entertainers have already become an integral part of the festive cheer, with the voices of Nat King Cole and Mariah Carey synonymous with the warmth and love of Christmas celebrations.
In film and television, though, Christmas entertainment—be it Hollywood classics from decades ago or festive favorites from more recent times—has been dominated by white casts. While that trend is slowly changing, many great Christmas movies focusing on Black characters continue to be overlooked: plenty of these films are classics!
‘A Diva’s Christmas Carol’ (2000)
One of the more inventive spins on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, A Diva’s Christmas Carol follows Ebony Scrooge (Vanessa Williams), a cold-hearted pop star unable to get into the Christmas spirit. That is until she is visited by four ghosts who show her the error of her ways and set her on the right path.
Implementing Bob Cratchett (Brian McNamara) as her underpaid agent and having former bandmate Marli Jacob (Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas) confront Ebony about her immorality, the film has plenty of fun re-imagining Dickens’ story where necessary. It doesn’t alter it to the point of stripping any of the plot’s natural charm, though, with A Diva’s Christmas Carol hitting all the right notes as a feel-good yuletide classic.
‘A Chestnut Family Christmas’ (2021)
An excellent example of awkward family gatherings dialed up to the max, A Chestnut Family Christmas follows a gifted pastry chef who accidentally agrees to host her family’s holiday celebrations. Desperate to shake her image as the black sheep of the family, Nina (Meagan Holder) holds the gathering at her boss’s impressive home, passing it off as being her own.
Despite all the stress and planning surrounding her elaborate plot, it isn’t long before Nina’s façade cracks, and her secret is out in the open. Fortunately for Nina, everyone else’s dirty laundry spills out, causing a mess of family drama and relationship spats which is a guilty pleasure to watch unfold.
‘Almost Christmas’ (2016)
A fiercely underrated Christmas movie adept at mixing family drama with laugh-out-loud comedy, Almost Christmas is a beautiful blend of emotions fitting the festive season. It follows Walter Meyer (Danny Glover), a retired mechanic and recent widower who wants his four children to celebrate Christmas with him as a family.
Getting the four under one roof is a Christmas miracle in itself, as political aspirations, professional sporting careers, and family struggles tear at them. Of course, the haphazardness of it all is resolved by the end of the movie, which, in addition to being a feel-good flick, also addresses the loss of a mother and a wife with a surprising poignance.
‘The Kid Who Loved Christmas’ (1990)
Coming from producer Eddie Murphy and directed by a veteran of the television industry Arthur Allan Siedelman, The Kid Who Loved Christmas is a made-for-TV movie packed with charm. It tells the story of a musician struggling with adoption in the wake of his wife’s death who finds an ally in a social worker who decides to help him.
Like so many great Christmas movies throughout cinematic history, its central themes reflect the importance and meaning of family. Heart-warming and heart-breaking, it also featured Sammy Davis Jr. in his final screen performance.
‘Our Christmas Journey’ (2021)
Christmas movies are all about family in one way or another. One of the best to explore that theme is 2021’s Our Christmas Journey which centers on a single mother coming to terms with having to allow her autistic teenage son more freedom and independence.
It reconstructs the family drama which imbues most Christmas movies by trading out silly personal differences for a painful yet loving situation where no one is morally wrong. The result is a touching movie about love that sees the mother and son getting what they truly want.
‘Last Holiday’ (2006)
Last Holiday stars Queen Latifa as Georgia Byrd, a shy saleswoman who has lived a life of unfulfilled desire, which is uprooted when she is diagnosed with Lampington’s disease and given just weeks to live. On first viewing, it’s a tragic Christmas story about cramming a life’s worth of dreaming into mere weeks, but the unbridled joy Georgia brings to all she comes across imbues the film with an undeniable charm.
Latifa’s performance makes the movie work: she’s charming and likable as she enjoys living, all while acknowledging the bleak fate she faces. Don’t be alarmed, though, as the film does have a happy and uplifting ending, with LL Cool J helping make the movie a true Christmas gem.
‘This Christmas’ (2007)
If you think nothing necessitates a Christmas movie like an all-star cast entrenched in hilarious family squabbling, then look no further than This Christmas as your next go-to classic. The film stars Idris Elba, Regina King, and Loretta Devine, among many others, as members of the dysfunctional Whitfield family.
Brought together for a family Christmas for the first time in four years, the cast perfectly embodies family angst and awkwardness as they reunite. It isn’t long until everyone’s secrets are revealed in a delightfully messy fashion which can be resolved within a couple of hours, and we come to a charming, heartfelt conclusion of what it means to be a family.
‘The Preacher’s Wife’ (1996)
A remake of 1947’s The Bishop’s Wife starring Cary Grant, The Preacher’s Wife is a modernized take on the famous festive tale with Denzel Washington in the leading role. He plays Dudley; an angel sent from heaven to help a disillusioned preacher overcome his midlife crisis only to fall in love with the preacher’s wife.
The decision to stay true to the original film’s story sees The Preacher’s Wife packed with an old-timey Hollywood charm that doesn’t come around too often anymore. Re-imagining it with an all-Black cast imbued the picture with a kind of modernity that did enough to differentiate it from the original flick and become a worthwhile Christmas classic in its own right.
‘The Best Man Holiday’ (2013)
A Christmas-themed sequel to 1999’s The Best Man, The Best Man Holiday may not be the most original film ever made, but it is phenomenal at getting every drop of excellence from what it has to offer. Following a group of friends who reunite over the holidays for the first time in 15 years, the raunchy Christmas comedy is able to set its outrageous laughs upon a backdrop of genuine emotional heft.
While all the characters had changed from when they were last together, it doesn’t take long for past rivalries and romances to re-ignite. The flirty, feisty, feel-good Christmastime rom-com isn’t afraid to pack and punch and encouraged audiences to feel every ounce of love and loss with its wonderful characters.
‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ (2020)
Exuberant, well-intentioned, and filled to the brim with holiday joy, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey should be a mainstay Christmas classic revisited on an annual basis. A celebration of Christmas filled with wide-eyed optimism, it follows a once great toymaker who has groveled in misery for decades after betrayal from a trusted apprentice led to his store’s bankruptcy.
However, things take a turn when his bright and bubbly granddaughter arrives at his doorstep. While initially uninterested in her, Jeronicus (Forrest Whitaker) soon finds new hope in the child and her sense of wonder. The family-adventure musical is a gorgeous Christmas musical that oozes wondrous charm and has a stellar cast, too.