Forest Whitaker, playing a no-nonsense reverend, is joined by Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige and other leading stars in a modern adaptation of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes’ classic Off-Broadway production.
Presented by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the holiday musical drama follows a Baltimore teen named Langston (Jacob Latimore) sent by his single mother, Naima (Jennifer Hudson) to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged relatives, the Reverend Cornell (Whitaker) and Aretha Cobbs (Bassett). Finding the Reverend’s rules too severe, Langston makes up his mind to return home to Baltimore to be with his mother.
“Langston embarks on a surprising and inspirational journey and along with new friends, and a little divine intervention, he discovers the true meaning of faith, healing, and family,” according to a description of the film.
Black Nativity was first produced on New York City’s Broadway on December 11, 1961. The original name for this play was Wasn’t It a Mighty Day? You might also find it interesting that original cast members like Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavallade quit the production before opening day because they objected to the use of the word “black” in the title. The rationale at the time was that this word might be too divisive for a Broadway production aimed at keeping things harmonious with all audiences.
Ultimately, black in the title did not matter. This liberating and energetic musical opened to rave reviews. When the New York production ended, Black Nativity toured Europe. It was very well received in 1962 at the Spoleto Festival in Italy.
Keep in mind that Langston Hughes—besides being a poet, journalist, memoir writer, novelist, and short story writer—also wrote more than twenty plays and other musicals. Tambourines to Glory, Mulatto, Emperor of Haiti, Simply Heavenly and Jericho-Jim Crow are a few of the stage works by Hughes, a writer very interested in the African-American oral tradition. His political plays included Scottsboro Limited, Harvest, Angelo Herndon Jones, and De Organizer. He also wrote Mule Bone with Zora Neale Hurston.
Tyrese Gibson, Nasir “Nas” Jones, Vondie Curtis-Hall are among other stars appearing in the film. Joy Goodwin executive produced the musical drama.
Kasi Lemmons, who directed “Black Nativity” and wrote the screenplay, called the film her “Godspell,” an Off-Broadway production from the ‘70s.
“I was a huge fan of musicals as a kid,” she told USA Today. “The ‘Fantasticks was one of my favorites. And ‘Black Nativity’ spoke to my childhood, with ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Godspell.’ This is my ‘Godspell.’”
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