Why Aren’t There More People Of Color In Christmas Movies, WTF?

by Ashley Rey

A Christmas Story, Home Alone, Love Actually, White Christmas — the list could literally go on for days. These are all extremely notable films to indulge in if you need a holiday fix. But with them being arguably some of the best holiday classics, there's still a very important piece missing from the short list of films mentioned — diversity and inclusion. I don't mean to rain on your holiday parade, but why aren't there more people of color in Christmas movies? Black and brown people celebrate Christmas, too.

Sure, Christmas-themed films like This Christmas, Almost Christmas, Last Holiday, The Preacher's Wife, The Best Man Holiday, and Nothing Like The Holidays may be considered classics within black and brown communities, but rarely would these projects appear in anyone's marathon line-up. For one, there aren't nearly enough holiday films centered around black families to form one. As for black and brown holiday movies with small town, cheesy, and romantic plots with a Christmas-y edge, yeah, those are pretty hard to come by.

The Hallmark Channel is notorious for being the go-to outlet to get your holiday film fix during the season. The only problem is that the beloved made-for-TV films typically surround white families, celebrate white love, and showcase white spaces — leaving people of color out of the storytelling. And as a result, they've received their share of warranted criticism all over the internet.

During one of the network's biannual production events in the summer of 2016, in which Hallmark invites the press and television critics to get a first look at the many upcoming projects on their docket, President and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks Bill Abbott responded to concerns surrounding the lack of diversity and inclusion in the works. According to a Salon article published in 2016, Abbott reportedly admitted that the network hasn't "done nearly a good enough job" at it. But Abbott also noted that the telling of more diverse stories has been "a difficult undertaking that we are committed to not only improving on but becoming proficient at" — citing filming in Canada as one of the reasons why Hallmark lacks color on the casting front.

But because black and brown people live in and are capable of traveling to and from Canada, it's easy to read Abbott's excuses for Hallmark not telling inclusive stories as just that — excuses. The explanation is completely tired and dismissive at best, and, of course, neglects to point out the real issue stopping the industry from embracing black and brown joy: American entertainment appears to be obsessed with black and brown pain.

We already know that Hollywood has suffered from a diversity problem for decades now. Moonlight, Fences, Selma, 12 Years A Slave, and The Help are more recently (and naming just a few) the black films to gain critical acclaim and to clean up during their respective awards seasons. And though most times telling of strong and powerful messages, it's almost as if stories about people of color aren't worthy of accolades or acknowledgement unless they portray some degree of pain or suffering. The black renaissance happening in entertainment today shows that the industry has totally been making strides toward showcasing more inclusive stories — and I'm not talking about films about slavery, police brutality, or those with drug-related plots.

It wasn't until recently that hilarious, loving, and carefree depictions of black and brown people took up this large of a space in the media. Shows like Issa Rae's HBO brainchild Insecure and Kenya Barris' ABC hit black-ish challenged widely-accepted perceptions of what it means to be "normal" black women, and what black families should look like in media. And actors Tracee Ellis Ross and Sterling K. Brown took home 2017 Golden Globe and Emmy awards, respectively, for their light-hearted approaches to black parenting on screen. And on the other hand, critically acclaimed films like The Big Sick and Girls Trip being snubbed for the 2018 Golden Globes, despite their stories challenging black and brown stereotypes on love and joy, show that there's still progress that needs to be made.

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Bottom line: Hollywood extending the same acceptance to black and brown romantic comedies, as they do with white films in the genre, has yet to happen. And seeing as the recognizing of stories about people of color, outside of pain and suffering, is a revolutionary act, the lack of inclusion in the holiday-themed movie space, though frustrating, makes a lot of sense.

Christmas films are meant to stir up the holiday spirit in viewers, but seeing as most take place in white spaces, the movies could have the opposite impact on viewers of color — especially children of color. In 2012, Indiana University professors Kristen Harrison and Nicole Martins conducted a research study, surveying just how much television consumption affects viewers self-esteem. And spoiler alert: The results are disheartening.

After surveying close to 400 black and white, 7 to 12-year-old boys and girls over a year's time, ranging from low-middle to upper-middle socioeconomic backgrounds, the researchers found that the white boys had a rise in self-confidence, while the white girls, and black boys and girls, showed a decrease. The study noted that having powerful representations of themselves on screen played a huge role in the increase for the white boys, while the lack thereof for the white girls, and black boys and girls, worked against them.

Pairing the study's results with the lack of inclusion in holiday-themed films, one could assume the impact would be the same. Questions like, "Are people of color incapable of having fairytale love stories or Christmas miracles?" are bound to arise. And unfortunately, people of color, more particularly, young kids of color, could potentially question their worth.

It may sound trivial to some, but not seeing black and brown stories about carefree love, happiness, and joy appears to do more harm than good. And the industry needs to do something about it.