I will speak what every Black Christmas movie fan knows, Hallmark movies have always been incredibly white. The stories all follow the lives of white leads who are in search of a romantic entanglement for the holiday. Whatever the story, it always centered on whiteness. Many of the movies didn’t have so much as a black face in the background. The Black and people of color who did appear were service workers, sassy best friends, magical negroes, or just wallpaper—people stuck randomly in the scenery to add some “color”.
Then, over summer 2020, CEO of Hallmark Mike Perry announced that the company was creating 40 new films that are diverse and work to include stories centering everyone.
“Diversity and inclusion are a top priority for us, and we look forward to making some exciting programming announcements in the coming months,” he said referring to LGBTQ-inclusive movies. “We are committed to creating a Hallmark experience where everyone feels welcome.”
One Royal Holiday is one of the first looks at this programming.
We Can Actually SEE the Black People
The first thing that I noticed about One Royal Holiday before the story laid itself bare, was that I could SEE the black people, despite the number of white people also in the scenes. This is substantial. I’ve noticed that Black people in the background of films with white extras as well, often look like they are in shadow, or their features are not very distinguishable. You can see the facial expressions, but if a mocha complexioned actress has freckles, the audience viewing will never know.
Kellita Smith, during our interview earlier this year for Blerd Galaxy, explained that the film is lit to make the lead look best. That’s why Black characters are often little more than shadows in the background of many films—or not there at all. This means that One Royal Holiday’s bright lights may not have been the best for the white actors, but they were the best for seeing the Black people in every scene. The dark-skinned nurse (played by Chengusoyane Kargbo) in the hospital scene with Anna, (Laura Osnes) is absolutely radiant! We see you, all of you. And your melanin makes these new holiday films so important.
Not the Help, a Plot Device, or the Wallpaper
The second most significant feature of the new films is how they incorporate characters of color in the films. The additions do not feel forced and yet are challenging some long-held tropes portrayed onscreen by Black women specifically. In One Royal Holiday, the opening scenes lead up to the typical romance film “meet-cute” between Anna and Prince James (played by Aaron Tviet). These are two white characters; however, they are living in a world that is populated by a diverse swath of humans. The world around them is more reflective of the world we all live in.
Anna was a nurse at the hospital, one who works in the ICU. She and the Kargbo’s character have a conversation that lifts the Black nurse from being wallpapered to being a part of the narrative. Other characters get the same treatment as Anna prepares to go home for the holidays. She meets a man who makes fun of her donuts. Turns out, he’s the Prince of a place called Galwick. He’s not too fond of Anna, but his mother Queen Gabriella (played by Victoria Clark) loves her. They also have security along, Christopher (played by Bradley Rose). Turns out a storm is coming, and the hotel does not have room for them. Their flights are canceled. Anna invites them to her hometown for Christmas.
Of course, the small town is everything you would ever want to see in a Hallmark Christmas movie. There are vibrant and elaborate lights, garland, trees, carts of holiday treats, and more. Anna’s father owns an inn that is further decked in holiday splendor. It’s not long before we meet the best friend—a Black girl. However, this one is not a trope.
Never the JUST the Best Friend Either
Krystal Joy Brown plays that friend, but she is not the trope. Sara actually runs the entire town. And while in other stories, the sassy Black friend had a nominal job that could be pushed aside for the white friend’s problems. Sara had things to do. In fact, the romance arc is driven by the duties that Sara has as mayor. Anna wants to be with her friend, so she must meet up with Sara after the town parade, for example.
There’s another important departure for Brown’s character—Sara has a romance. And her heated companionship gets brewing long before Anna and Prince James find their way to one another. Sara’s paramour is Christopher, and they discover their romance as they secure the small town for the royals while keeping the royal identity a secret. Even as Anna and the prince flirt with the standard “will they/won’t they” tension, Sara and Christopher are a hot item that serves us all the romance we need while we wait on the leads.
Anna and the Prince end up have a lot in common, even something that goes back to Anna’s job at the hospital. They have both lost parents, and both leaned on their best friends for help. Those best friends who now had a long-distance relationship in the making. By the time the romance finally does reach the end we are expecting, it’s not as exciting as the one we hope blossoms between the best friends. Thus, the Black girl’s best friend’s romance steals the show from the white lead.
With Inclusion Comes New Narrative Opportunities
This is the reason why the Hallmark Channel’s new inclusion initiative is a long-term boon. In actively subverting tropes and seeking to enhance the humanity of the diverse characters in the films, the narratives end up the beneficiaries of serendipity. New narrative opportunities spring up unexpectedly, like Sara and Christopher’s romance that we root for harder than Anna and her Prince.
So many people reluctantly watched the Hallmark Christmas movies, enjoying the light holiday romances, but souring on the overbearing whiteness of the stories. These viewers will open the channel this year to discover an injection of “seasoning” to the films—diverse characters, erased tropes, and new narrative opportunities that Hallmark Christmas movie fans will enjoy.
Rating 4 of 5
Check out the trailer…
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