By Shatondra Caldwell
Black Nativity gives a 21st century twist on the off-Broadway play by celebrated poet Langston Hughes. In Black Nativity, Hughes celebrates what happened in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago with an African American flavor. Not only telling the story of baby Jesus, but the beauty of gospel music and the genius of Hughes, Black Nativity has transitioned to the film and director Kasi Lemmons, who has done a great job the adaptation.
The musical starts with Langston (Jacob Latimore) whose struggling single mother Naima (Jennifer Hudson) sends him to Harlem, NY to spend Christmas with grandparents (Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett) whom he has never met because of their hostility and estrangement from his mom. The secret that surrounds these circumstances, as well as Langston’s absent father seems to fuel his teenage troubles. Soon Langston embarks on a shocking but very inspirational journey and discovers the true meaning of faith, love, and family. Even though most of the story’s plotline is believable and predictable, this film’s big Christmas message of love and family is made very clear with the star-studded cast.
Black Nativity feels like a made-for-television movie than a feature film, but the renowned, award-winning cast helps make it work for the big screen. Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett play the typical Christian grandparents with Whitaker as the stern paterfamilias and Bassett as the caring, worrisome grandmother. Tyrese Gibson is a great supporting character as a street-smart hustler, “Loot” and Mary J. Blige is also a supporting actor whose appearances illuminate throughout the movie.
We can’t forget, Black Nativity is a musical and what’s a musical without the music. Veteran producer, Raphael Saadiq is the mastermind behind the emotional melodies throughout the film. Songs include rhythm and blues, contemporary pop, and traditional Christmas songs. Jennifer Hudson uses her powerful voice to belt out ‘Test of Faith’, as a lullaby to her son. And newcomer Jacob Latimore’s voice hangs opposite his experienced counterparts.
Over Black Nativity does a great job by bringing a well-known Christmas play to the big screen. Aside from its flaws, the film offers a great, inspirational family-friendly movie. The strong performances by amazing artist and Academy Award-winning actors allow it to provide a powerful Christmas message that holds true to the spirit of Langston Hughes’ play.
Grade: 3 stars
Running Time: 93 minutes
Copyright, 2013 African American Film Critics Association, LLC all rights reserved.
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