Yesterday I attended the premier screening of a contemporary adaptation of Langston Hughes’ celebrated play “Black Nativity.” It’s a holiday musical film which follows Langston, a street-wise teen from Baltimore raised by a single mother (Jennifer Hudson), as he journeys to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged relatives Reverend Cornell and Aretha Cobbs. (Forest Whitaker & Angela Basset) Unwilling to live by the imposing Reverend Cobbs’ rules, a frustrated Langston is determined to return home to his mother, Naima. The teen embarks on a surprising journey and along with his new friends, and a little divine intervention, he discovers the true meaning of faith, healing, and family in the form of a Christmas miracle.
“Black Nativity” is a retelling of the classic Nativity story with an entirely black cast, and was first performed Off-Broadway on December 11, 1961. Traditional Christmas carols are sung in gospel style, with a few original songs created specifically for the show.
In the movie’s early scenes characters break into song in everyday settings. However, once Langston reaches Harlem the music becomes straightforward and presented in a more realistic fashion. “Black Nativity” comes together during a lengthy church service, a heavenly fantasy that envelops Langston and galvanizes the movie in a Christmas card moment.
Whitaker and Bassett both sing reasonably well, and their performances add unmistakable gravitas to the film. But it’s Jennifer Hudson that really demonstrates her vocal talent into the ensemble. Even in this heavyweight company, however, Latimore may be the new talent standout. He’s convincing as a potential bad boy punk, but he always has us rooting for him to end up on the right side. And his musical gifts are pretty surprising.
I recommend “Black Nativity” for those that are looking for a religious family movie and enjoy Broadway theatre. The movie’s heart is in the right place, I’d give it 3 stars.