Angela Bassett Forest Whitaker Jennifer Hudson Jacob Latimore Mary J. Blige
This black spiritual movie will be treasured by Christians who are moved by the story of Jesus’ birth and the promise of redemption. Those not necessarily Christian will also be moved by the family’s story, in which much has transpired to splinter them apart and, further, must not be spoken of. Family secrets like these fester and grow, but if the people are fortunate, something will cause them to erupt so that healing can begin.
The film opens with a young man in Baltimore, Langston (Jacob Latimore), doing his teenage thing, then coming home to find out his mother, Naima (Jennifer Hudson), is shipping him off to relatives in Harlem whom he did not know he had. Naima and Langston are about to be evicted from their home for nonpayment of the mortgage, and she does not know what else to do. He is hurt and angry, especially since he has come to believe that he is her protector, so he’s left with helpless feelings as well. It turns out, that he is being sent to his grandparents (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett). Naima simply leaves a message on their phone, then gives Langston a note with their names and phone number and sends him off.
Langston is new to Harlem, and immediately has trouble, but his grandparents locate him and welcome him to their home. He is in for culture shock, however, because his grandfather is a strict reverend for the church, and they live in much better economic circumstances than he is used to. He is fortunate that his grandmother is warmhearted, gentle, and patient, so he is able to warm up to her a bit.
But he is still resentful, and the story involves his becoming acquainted with and grasping the Christian spirit and undergoing some hard lessons in life along the way. I think the scenes that weave in and out of Langston’s fantasies/dreams are especially effective.
Black Nativity is a well conceived and produced musical based on a play by Langston Hughes and a screenplay written by the director Kasi Lemmons. Raphael Saadiq as Executive Musical Director has created seamless continuity and balance between traditional and contemporary music. Costumes and set decorations are colorful and meaningful, and the music inspiring. The actors Bassett, Hudson, Latimore, and Blige are great at both acting and singing, and Forest Whitaker adds gravitas, both as a character and an actor—and he even sings a song.
Black Nativity is a wonderful story for Christmastime, particularly for those who cherish the Christian message.
By: Donna R. Copeland