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'Black Nativity' Film Features Star-Studded Cast

Stacy M. Brown and Huda Mu'min | 12/4/2013, 3 p.m.

The buzz surrounding the new holiday film, “Black Nativity,” might turn out to be more about the talent assembled for the Silver Screen version of Langston Hughes’ masterpiece than about the birth of Jesus Christ, which is the prevailing theme of the stage play.

The film, which opened nationwide on Wednesday, Nov. 27, stars Hollywood powerhouses Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. It also features music superstars Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige and Jacob Latimore while the score for the movie includes new tracks from Raphael Saadiq and Laura Karpman.

However, audiences ultimately will decide whether, “Black Nativity,” keeps the integrity of Hughes’ play, which happened to be one of the first by an African American to appear on Broadway, also known as the Great White Way.

“The movie is a reflection on our time and the everyday miracle of forgiveness, but I did not want an obvious big miracle holiday movie with just the conspicuous hand of God reaching down,” said the film’s director, Kasi Lemmons.

“I believe that miracles happen every day even in tiny waves and I think that forgiveness is one of those great miracles that [by] opening your heart, you will also open a universe to different possibilities,” said Lemmons, 52, who’s directing credits also include the 2007 film, “Talk to Me,” the story of Washington D.C., radio personality, Ralph “Petey” Greene, an ex-con who became a popular radio talk show host and community activist in the 1960s.

Hughes’ stage play also focused on miracles and forgiveness, and opens with barefoot singers clad in white robes with candles in hand, singing, the Negro spiritual, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

The late Mike Malone, the co-founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest, staged “Black Nativity,” in theaters around the world, including Paris, Hong Kong, New York and Ohio. The production has become a holiday tradition in many locations, especially in Washington, D.C., where staff and students at Ellington will again perform the play beginning Wednesday, Dec. 4.

For the Silver Screen production of “Black Nativity,” Latimore, 17, portrays, “Langston,” a frustrated teen from Baltimore.

The story chronicles his journey from the single-parent home he shares with his mother, Naima, portrayed by Hudson, to New York where he spends Christmas with his estranged grandparents, the Rev. Cornell Cobbs (Whitaker) and Aretha Cobbs (Bassett).

While the family feuds over past misgivings and a lack of trust, Langston ultimately discovers the meaning of faith and forgiveness.

“I think as parents we all want the best for [our children] and [our] family and [we] want to provide for them,” said Hudson, 32, who catapulted to fame in 2004 as one of the 12 finalists on the popular Fox television talent show, “American Idol.”

Hudson, a multiple Grammy Award winner, made her film debut in the 2006 Silver Screen production of, “Dreamgirls,” which she earned an NAACP Image Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

“I understand Naima, I understand her stubbornness, and not wanting to forgive her family,” Hudson said.

Lemmons and producers of the one hour and 33-minute film’s distributor, Fox Searchlight Pictures, hope “Black Nativity,” benefits from the success of other African-American movies this year, including the recently released, “The Best Man Holidays,” “12 Years a Slave,” and, “The Butler.”

However, various cinema trade publications noted that the enthusiasm surrounding “Black Nativity” did not translate well at the box office, as the film took in an estimated $3 million during the holiday weekend.

Whether or not theatergoers eventually flock to see the movie, Lemmons said she’s thrilled with the film’s end result. And, she considers herself fortunate to have been able to bring together such a star-studded cast that also features the rapper, Nas, and actor and singer, Tyrese Gibson.

“Getting them all together was a huge challenge,” Lemmons said in an earlier interview. “But, I pretty much got my first choices. Also, (Latimore) is just this amazing kid and I knew that this movie rested on the shoulders of this kid. He was the first actor I auditioned and I knew as soon as he walked into my house … this was an extraordinary young man. I love this kid.”