Mary Baker ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Everything in Black Nativity pointed to a hit: source material drawn from one of America’s favorite poets, a star-studded cast, and enough music and holiday spirit to make even Scrooge smile. However, something went wrong in the recipe and turned what promised to be a Christmas cookie treat of a movie into a fruitcake.
Based on Langston Hughes’ Off-Broadway musical version of the birth of Jesus, Black Nativity tells the story of Langston (newcomer Jacob Latimore), a teenage boy living with his single mother Naima (an incredibly under utilized Jennifer Hudson). When they receive an eviction notice, Naima sends Langston off to spend the holidays with her parents, who she ran away from as a teenager. Naima’s father, the Rev. Cornell Cobbs (Forrest Whittaker) and mother Aretha (Angela Bassett) take Langston in as he tries to discover the mystery of why his mother ran away all while learning about the true meaning of Christmas.
Unfortunately, even with all the vocal and acting power present (Mary J. Blige even makes an appearance) the movie still falls flat. Little character development and a choppy plot with spots of Hughes’ beautiful prose clumsily integrated into a modern-day script made Black Nativity a dirge instead of a carol. None of the actors (save for Whittaker and Bassett) seemed to have any fun in a movie stuffed with musical numbers, vivid dream sequences, and a sumptuous sets.
Most of the songs are exceptionally downbeat for a movie with such a merry tone, and the characters do not seem to have any reason for naturally breaking out into song. The musical numbers seem forced, especially when Langston raps a few lines then continues on as if nothing has happened. Black Nativity cannot decide whether it wants to be a movie musical or a movie where the characters have a penchant for breaking out into gospel tunes.
The plot twist in the movie could be seen from a mile away, but the mystery was nevertheless a clever twist that thrilled the audience and kept them interested through the dry spells in the movie.
Black Nativity disappointed as a holiday film, but provided minor enjoyment and plenty of warm Christmas feelings as a whole.
Overall Grade: C-