By M. Hunter
“Black Nativity” starring Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson, is a contemporary adaptation of the play by famed author Langston Hughes. In the movie, Naima (Jennifer Hudson) is a young, single mother whose boyfriend left her when their son was two-years-old. Years later, facing eviction from her Baltimore home just before Christmas, she decides to send her young teenage son, Langston (Jacob Latimore), to live with his grandparents, Rev. Cornell and Aretha Cobb (Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett) in Harlem.
I confess, I have not read Hughes’ play so I can’t say if it has devolved from its original presentation in the 1950s. However, regardless of the period in which the musical is set, somethings never change i.e. human nature and our deep emotional need for family and forgiveness. The movie uses the circumstances of young Langston to deal with them.
Langston, who has grown up on the streets of Baltimore, is awed, then jealous of the obvious middle-class home of his grandparents. They have pieces of Black art and historical artifacts throughout their brownstone in Harlem. Langston begins to wonder why his mother is struggling like she has when her parents obviously had the money to help. His grandparents try to welcome him into their home but Langston is determined to get the money to help his mother keep their small place in Baltimore. And like many young black men who grow up on the streets, his solution could end in jail time.
I won’t go into what happens but I will disagree with the movie’s promo. It’s promoted as a movie about faith and family. I see it as a movie about the hole in a young man’s heart when his father is not around to raise him. At one point, Naima even admits she has no idea how to teach her son to be man and she hopes his grandparents can do that for him.
I also ask the same question whenever I see single mothers raising children on their own with no financial help – where is the father? And like most children raised without their father in their lives, Langston asked the question, why did his father leave him? What did he do wrong? At one point he confesses that a Christmas miracle to him is not getting the money to prevent the eviction but having his mother AND father and grandparents in his life.
There is also the theme of forgiveness and there are a lot of people needing to do some forgiving in this film. I’m always reminded that forgiveness is not saying that the wrong action done by someone is okay. Forgiveness is letting go of the expectation that they can somehow make it up and moving on. Lack of forgiving holds a lot of people back from progressing in their lives and that message is clearly demonstrated in “Black Nativity.”
I don’t believe single-mothers raising black boys were very common in the 1950s so I’m not sure if this was a part of the original play, however, kudos to Kasi Lemmon for including the topic in her screenplay. It’s important people understand how their decisions affect their children.
Warning, the movie has a slow start. Actually, three men walked out of the theatre halfway through the movie. I, however, love a movie with a message and “Black Nativity” delivers. There aren’t any award-winning acting performances in here and I do feel Angela Bassett was holding back in her role. However, the vocal performances by Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige and Nas were great. Raphael Saadiq served as music director for the project and the music was great. As a cherry on the top, the choir sang my all-time favorite Stevie Wonder song, “As”.