Classic Christmas movies enjoy heavy rotation during the holiday season. While black-and-white films such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” have stood the test of time with universal messages about gratitude and family, they miss the mark for people of color who want to see their own holiday experiences depicted on the silver screen. From the 1990s on, a slew of holiday films featuring black, Latino, Native American and Asian-American actors have debuted. This list provides an overview of Christmas movies with diverse casts.
Starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, “The Preacher’s Wife” surfaced as one of the first Hollywood Christmas films to feature an entirely black cast. The movie updates the 1947 Cary Grant classic “The Bishop’s Wife.” In the ’90s version, Courtney B. Vance plays a preacher in danger of losing his church because of financial difficulties. He begs for divine intervention, so a charming angel named Dudley (Washington) begins to visit his wife (Houston). The movie features several gospel songs performed by music legend Houston and strives to show the importance of faith. In a film review, the New York Times described the film as a “shrewdly conceived update” that sustains a “pleasantly inspirational mood.”
Award-winning film “Christmas in the Clouds” is one of few holiday films to feature a primarily Native American cast. The film takes place at a ski resort run by a Native American tribe. A romantic comedy of errors, the film stars Sam Vlahos, who plays Joe Clouds on Fire. When an online dating service matches Joe up with a New York career woman named Tina Pisati (Mariana Tosca), hilarity ensues. That’s because Joe’s son, manager of the resort, is expecting a hotel critic to visit and has told employees to await her arrival. A comedic case of mistaken identity soon follows. Meanwhile the hotel’s resort cook Earl, played by American Indian acting legend Graham Greene, has converted to vegetarianism and seeks to make followers out of hotel guests. While zany, the film counters stereotypes of American Indians by depicting them as professionals in an upscale resort rather than as warriors in the Wild West.
Catherine Hardwicke’s “The Nativity Story” provides a new look at Mary and Joseph’s experiences as parents to the divine baby Jesus. The film not only breaks ground by treating Mary and Joseph as real people with real fears and insecurities but features one of the most diverse casts ever in a film narrative about Jesus Christ. The film’s Mary, Keisha Castle-Hughes of New Zealand, has Maori heritage. Actor Oscar Isaac, who’s Cuban and Guatemalan, portrays Joseph. Moreover, a variety of Middle Eastern actors from Palestine, Sudan, Jordan and Iran—including the well-known Shohreh Aghdashloo—round out the cast. Given that Hollywood has cranked out one Christmas movie after another featuring largely European casts, the inclusion of people of color in a film about Jesus’ birth makes “The Nativity Story” quite unique.
Comic John Leguizamo stars as Mauricio, a lawyer who’s bringing his white wife ( Debra Messing) home to meet his Puerto Rican family for the first time. Leguizamo discussed “Nothing Like the Holidays,” one of the rare movies to show how Latinos celebrate Christmas, with Latina magazine upon its release. “There’s always a white Christmas movie, sometimes a black Christmas movie, but never a Latin one,” he said. “I felt like it was really important for people to see our traditions and how we celebrate.” He said that family plays a stronger role in the Latino communities than it does in the average American community, where people can be too independent. In addition to addressing family, “Nothing Like the Holidays” touches on generational conflicts, Latino identity and current events such as the Iraq war.
The Harold & Kumar films are by no means friendly family fare. Known for their raunchy stoner humor, the films are unique in that they center on the relationship between a Korean-American man and his Indian-American friend. The series updates the buddy flick with a multiracial twist. And the third installment of the series, “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” is atypical in that it features Asian Americans in a film about the holidays. CNN describes the film as a “riotously multiethnic black comedy.” The movie is far from politically correct, poking fun at a variety of ethnic groups from Jews to blacks to Latinos. To boot, St. Nick gets shot in the head, Jesus has groupies and cocaine (rather than snow) falls to the ground to the sound of Bing Crosby’s voice. As these hijinks take place, estranged Harold and Kumar reunite in a plot to score a 12-foot Christmas tree.