For decades, holiday movies have reinforced the same romantic tropes and themes that have become quintessential to the genre. Not to say that cheekily placed mistletoe, serendipitous run-ins or secret royalty are bad by any means, but these tales have also failed to carve out more diverse narratives for love — ones that fall outside of the white, heteronormative bubble that many viewers have more recently realized to be outdated and noninclusive.
In the last few years, and especially during the unprecedented time that has been 2020, holiday film scripts have finally been shirking these tight and narrow guidelines to usher in what is hopefully a new era of inclusivity in the genre.
"People see themselves in our programming and feel welcome here," Amy Winter, head of programming for Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network recently told NPR. "We have over 20 diverse leads and over 80 diverse characters in the course of this premiere season. So, we're doing pretty well."
These films, featuring the blossoming love stories between characters of color, LGBTQ+ characters and physically disabled characters don’t just mark a shift in Hollywood, though; they provide a meaningful representation to a wider set of viewers, showing that love and holiday magic comes in all forms. Last month, Hallmark debuted “The Christmas House,” its first holiday movie featuring a gay lead couple, and Lifetime cast real-life husbands Ben Lewis and Blake Lee to lead its debut LGBTQ+ holiday feature, “The Christmas Setup.”
“This is a big deal,” Joanna Wilson, the author of several books about holiday entertainment, told The New York Times. “Queer people have been bosses and co-workers and siblings of the main characters. Being the central romance is very exciting and comes not a moment too soon.”
Here’s seven diverse festive flicks worth checking out:
1. “A New York Christmas Wedding”
Among the many LGBTQ+ holiday movies to be released this year, we were especially glad to see Netflix’s “A New York Christmas Wedding'' make its debut. Starring actress Nia Fairweather, it stands out from the crowd as the only new holiday feature to include an ethnically diverse leading cast. Leading up to her wedding, Fairweather’s character is visited by an angel who shows her what her life might have looked like had she followed through with her romantic feelings for childhood friend Gabrielle, played by Adriana DeMeo.
2. “Happiest Season”
This "coming out" rom-com featuring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis broke Hulu streaming records after it premiered over Thanksgiving weekend, becoming the most-watched film on the streaming website during opening weekend. In “Happiest Season” Stewart plays a lesbian woman named Abby, who heads to the family home of her girlfriend, Riley, for the holidays with the intention of proposing. In typical rom-com fashion, not all goes according to plan.
3. “A Sugar & Spice Holiday”
“A Sugar & Spice Holiday” is Lifetime’s first-ever holiday movie to feature a predominantly Asian American lead cast, and it’s about time. The film, which was pitched to Lifetime by Asian American screenwriter Eirene Donohue, features rising architect Suzy who returns to her hometown for Christmas. Suzy is persuaded to tap back into her baking skills for a local gingerbread house competition and ends receiving assistance from her former high school crush.
The storyline is a familiar one for holiday movies, but scenes that involve the whole family eating with chopsticks or see the lead character answering a snide “I didn’t know if Christmas was a big deal where you’re from,” provide a nuanced cultural representation.
4. “Christmas Ever After”
To continue with the superlatives, Lifetime has also released its first ever film starring a disabled actress. In “Christmas Ever After” romance novelist Izzi travels to a family lodge for Christmas, where she happens to meet a man who looks just like the dream man on the covers of her books. The lead role of Izzi is played by Ali Stroker, who also broke barriers last year after becoming the first performer in a wheelchair to win a Tony award for her role in Broadway's revival of "Oklahoma!”
Despite being a slightly older movie, the romantic drama “Carol” released in 2015 still deserves to make this list for its moodier representation of a forbidden LGBTQ+ holiday romance. In the film, Cate Blanchett’s character Carol meets younger woman and sales clerk Therese, played by Rooney Mara. The passionate affair that begins between the two women brings to light the challenges faced by lesbian women during an era of prejudice and discrimination.
6. “The Christmas House”
Hallmark’s first-ever LGBTQ+ holiday flick, “The Christmas House'' stars “Mean Girls” actor Jonathan Bennett and Brad Harder. The new film represents an important shift for Hallmark — a network that came under fire last holiday season for pulling a series of Zola commercials featuring same-sex couples from the air. Now, it has finally released its first film featuring two gay male leads, with a story centered around family as the couple anxiously awaits a call about the adoption of their first child.
7. “Feliz NaviDAD”
Mario Lopez and Melissa Joan Hart team up for “Feliz NaviDAD,” one of the few holiday films to feature a Latinx lead character. In the new Lifetime flick Lopez plays single father and high school principal David Morales, who gets a second chance at love when his daughter Noel signs him up for a dating app.
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