This is the season of sameness, which is fine … sometimes.
We like having the same Christmas cartoons and songs and such. But too often, Christmas movies have seemed to have the same plots and the same Caucasian actors.
Now, belatedly, that’s changing. Corbin Bleu points to “A Christmas Dance Reunion” (8-10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, on Lifetime), shown here, as an example.
This is a romance, he said, that “has nothing to do with the fact that we’re Black …. I wish I was able to see a lot more of that onscreen, when I was a kid and watching all these holiday movies.”
Or when he was watching any movie.
“I grew up watching all of the MGM classic musicals and never really getting a chance to see representation of myself …. If it was someone of color, then it was the token.”
Monique Coleman, the other “Dance Reunion” star (they’re shown here), has seen that: “I have been cast in roles that someone could perceive as a token role. Like, ‘Oh, here we’re fulfilling the diversity quota.’”
Now that seems to have changed at both of the big Christmas-movie networks. There’s:
– Lifetime. This weekend, its new, 8 p.m. movies have Bleu and Coleman on Friday, Kirk Franklin’s “A Gospel Christmas” on Saturday and Rainbow Sun Francks and Mya in “My Favorite Christmas Melody” on Sunday, The previous weekend had “Merry Liddle Christmas Baby” with Kelly Rowland and “Miracle in Motor City” with Tia Mowry and Smokey Robinson.
– Hallmark. Of its first five Christmas movies this year, three had Black stars – Tamera Mowry (Tia’s twin), Jordin Sparks and Ashleigh Murray – and one starred Catherine Haena Kim, who has Korean roots. Subsequent films have had other Black stars plus a Latina, Marisol Nichols.
And this weekend, there’s “Eight Gifts of Hanukkah” at 8 p.m. Friday on Hallmark and “Our Christmas Journey,” with Holly Robinson Peete, at 10 p.m. Saturday on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
For years, Hallmark took sameness to an extreme. Its turning point came in 2019, when it pulled some wedding-planner ads that included a gay couple. Gay-rights groups promptly objected.
Bill Abbott, the networks’ CEO for a decade, was soon gone; the next year, Michelle Vicary – the programming chief and a Hallmark executive for 20 years – was also gone. Wonya Lucas, who is Black, became CEO, promising to show family “in a more authentic, varied and inclusive way.”
That same shift is evident in Lifetim,. Bleu points to his film: “There’s representation with the LGBTQIA community, (and) in age, in differently abled.” A gay couple has a supporting role and one of the dancing kids is in a wheelchair.
For all of the changes, some things remain the same. “Dance Reunion” has a familiar plot – a lawyer returns home for Christmas and meets the guy she liked as a teen-ager – and few surprises.
Its one unique touch is an emphasis on dance. “I started dancing when I was about 2 years old,” Bleu said. “I started with tap and ballet and that was always my first love.”
At 17, he was cast in “High School Musical,” which also starred Coleman. They did two sequels and he’s done much more, from theater to another Disney film, “Jump In.”
His wife, Canadian actress Sasha Clements, is also in “Dance Reunion.” She plays a TV reporter who’s the sort of person – cute, perky and white – we used to see at the core of every Christmas movie.