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Review: Black Nativity


When a Naima finds out that she and her teenage son Langston are being evicted from their Baltimore apartment, she decides to send her son to live with her estranged parents in New York. With the help of is his grandfather, Reverend Cornell Cobbs, and his wife Aretha, Langston discovers the true meaning of faith, family, and Christmas. Oh, and it’s a musical.

Jennifer Hudson appears at the beginning of the film as Naima, belting out tunes about caring for her son, played by newcomer Jacob Latimore. Reverend and Mrs. Cobbs are played by greats Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, one of whom is not the greatest singer; guess which one. Mary J. Blige appears briefly as “The Angel”, a woman with ridiculously large hoop earrings, and an even larger platinum Afro.

If you were told to imagine a film called “Black Nativity”, this is exactly what you would get. If this review were five words long, it would simply read, “Black Nativity is Black Nativity”.

There’s really nothing surprising and unexpected about this film, and it’s truly surprising that this film had not been made years ago. A teenager living with people he doesn’t know, refusing to accept their obvious kindness, struggling to find himself in an unknown land. The setup certainly isn’t original, but the presentation is.

Though the plot and execution are extremely simple, the film is saved by wonderful performances and catchy tunes. One of the greatest songs in the film, “Test of Faith”, appears at the beginning of the film and is sung beautifully by Jennifer Hudson. Another hit in the film is a fresh rendition of “Can’t Stop Praising His Name” that viewers are sure to be humming as they leave the theatre.

One must try not to think too hard during Black Nativity. Writer-director Kasi Lemmons’ film often feels very stagey, especially a confrontation scene near the end of the film. To truly enjoy the film one will have to truly suspend their thoughts and just enjoy the performances and the music.

Since the film is based on the celebrated play by famed poet Langston Hughes, it’s surprising that it wasn’t adapted earlier; but with surge in African-American targeted films, it’s the perfect time for Black Nativity. There are far to many white Christmas musicals, all with similarly styled music, and now there is finally a decent one created by, and starring African-Americans, that can truly be enjoyed by everyone.

Should You See It?
If you like musicals or gospel, then absolutely. If musicals aren’t really your thing, and you’re a stickler for plot and character development, then maybe not. One thing is for sure, if you do see Black Nativity you may find yourself “praising his name” for the rest of the day.

[star v=3]

Matt Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman is a Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films and actresses over the age of 50; including but not limited to: Isabelle Huppert, Meryl Streep, and Jacki Weaver.