‘Black Nativity’ Mixes The Old With New Hip-Hop Flare
The film and musical, Black Nativity, is packed with a major star-studded cast and, with the exception of Tyler Perry’s upcoming A Madea Christmas, is one of few holiday options this season. While musicals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, Black Nativity, an adaptation of Langston Hughes’ famous retelling of the birth of Christ, is a mashup between the old and the new.
Rather than dating the flick, director Kasi Lemmons brings a little newschool, hip-hop flare and street flavor to the screenplay, which also premiered as an Off-Broadway play in the 1960s. Lemmons’ version is fresh and forward-thinking, with the help of lead star, singer Jacob Latimore, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Tyrese, Luke James, Mary J. Blige and Nas.
Set in Harlem, Langston, who’s played by Latimore, is sent to spend Christmas with his grandparents because he and his mom, Naima, played by Hudson, were evicted, leaving her to work overtime on the holidays. The only issue is that Langston is meeting his grandmother (Bassett) and grandfather (Whitaker), who is a pastor, because of their strained relationship with Naima. Latimore, a kid from the streets of Baltimore, is a little rough around the edges, and learns quickly how mean the streets of New York can be when a kid swipes him for his backpack.
As a musical, Black Nativity is pretty impressive. There are no talentless wannabe’s looking awkward on screen. The cast displays excellent renditions of some of the most favorite Black holiday/gospel songs, as well as some originals. While Jennifer’s strong performance is unsurprising, she shows an impressive vulnerability in the end of the film—one that, to some degree, comes off more believable than her 2006 musical film, Dreamgirls. Tyrese, Whitaker and Bassett, the veterans of the cast, are expectedly impressive. Bassett and Whitaker even show off their singing skills a little bit, while Tyrese channels his Baby Boy days. Latimore, the 17-year-old R&B sensation, is relatively new to most audiences, however, he stands out as the breakout star - although R&B newcomer Luke James also manages to rise to the occasion with his small, yet impactful supporting role.
The film delivers well for its targeted audience, which is more than likely church-going Black viewers. However, Lemmons doesn’t make the film too churchy, and manages to direct a film that incorporates a little bit of something for everyone. The only small pitfall is the fact that Mary J. Blige and Nas’ characters were practically unnoticeable in the film. Nas, in particular, was nothing more than an insta-cameo. While there were opportunities for Lemmons to give Blige’s character, Platinum Fro, a little more dialogue and action, her acting is starting to refine. With such big names on the roster, it would’ve maybe served the film better.
With that aside, Black Nativity, is a pretty enjoyable flick.—Gerren Keith Gaynor (@MRGERRENALIST)