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Still shot from the movie: Black Nativity.

Black Nativity

When they receive an eviction notice, a single mom (Jennifer Hudson) sends her son (Jacob Latimore) to spend Christmas with his estranged grandparents (Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett). There the African-American youth has an unusual religious experience that helps him see his personal experiences differently.

Overall Grade: A-
Violence: C+
Sexual Content: B
Language: B
Drugs/Alcohol: A
Release Date: 27 Nov 2013
Run Time: 118
MPAA Rating: PG

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In-Depth Review

It looks like it is going to be a black Christmas for Langston (Jacob Latimore) after his single mom Naima (Jennifer Hudson) receives an eviction notice only a couple of days before the holiday. While the prospect of being homeless is bad, his desperate mother’s solution to the problem seems even worse. She wants to send the angst-filled fifteen-year-old to live with his estranged grandparents until she can sort out their $5000 shortfall.

Reluctantly leaving Baltimore and traveling to New York City, Langston soon discovers the Reverend Cornell Cobbs and his wife Aretha (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett) also have mixed emotions about his arrival. His cold Grandpa Cobbs is prepared to believe the worst about Langston’s character, while his Grandma blithely ignores the awkwardness caused by their prolonged separation and warmly welcomes him into their lives.

Langston however is doggedly determined to stay lukewarm. Although he is curious to understand what caused the rift between his mother and her parents, he is too proud to ask his pious grandfather and too wary to trust his doting grandmother. Instead he decides to find his own way to rescue Naima—even if that means he’ll have to beg, borrow or steal the needed money.

Meanwhile the spirit of the season swirls through the streets of Harlem, touching the rich and poor, the believers and the naysayers. As the community gathers in the aging Baptist church to hear Reverend Cobbs’ special sermon, even the dosing Langston can’t keep the Nativity story from seeping into his dreams. There it plays out with local residents assuming the leading roles of Mary, Joseph and the angels. But will the Biblical message of hope for a hopeless world penetrate the youth’s aching heart and give him the faith to believe miracles can still happen?

This movie is loosely based on the musical Black Nativity, which has been performed in Boston, Massachusetts since 1969. African-American poet Langston Hughes wrote the original stage play. While this version takes some artistic license, it still offers great gospel music, along with some compelling new songs.

Although the film culminates in the telling of the first Christmas story, parents may find the parts of the script detailing the drama of the broken family too intense for young viewers. These include depictions of teen-aged rebellion (that escalates into stealing and gun threats), a few mild profanities and discussions of un-wed pregnancies. Yet the portrayal of characters learning to draw on their religious understanding to overcome feelings of pride and revenge, presents a powerful picture of the virtues of humility, forgiveness, love and gratitude.

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

Violence: Rebellious teenagers graffiti a building. Property is stolen. A youth accused of stealing is put in a jail cell with other suspected criminals—these adults tease and mock him. References are made to the black market and drug dealing. A minor tries to buy a gun. An armed robbery turns into gun threats. An angry woman hits a man. Homelessness and poverty are depicted.

Sexual Content: Unwed pregnancies are discussed and shown. The sounds of a woman in childbirth are heard.

Language: Infrequent mild profanity, a vulgar expression and name-calling are included.

Drug and Alcohol Use: None Noted

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

Who is Langston Hughes? Why do you think Naima named her son after him? (Did you know this movie is inspired by a musical that written by the African-American author and poet?)

After fifteen years of trying to provide for her son, why does Naima decide to send the boy to her parents? What concerns, other than financial ones, does she allude to? What does she mean when she talks about role models? How does her decision reflect her feeling that love is all she has left to give her child?

Grandpa Cobbs says he displays African-American art in his home as a reminder of who they are and where they came from. Why is this memory so important to him?

When Langston asks his grandfather what kind of a parent he was, the old man replies that he was, “the broken-hearted kind.” Why is his sorrow not apparent to his grandson? What masks his grief? What other methods do the various characters in this movie use to cope with their disappointments?

How are the characters affected by their Christian faith? How does religion help some to find answers, while others only find more questions? How are attitudes of forgiveness/revenge and humility/pride depicted in the story?

Video alternatives

The Nativity Story offers a dramatization of the events leading up to the first Christmas. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Peanuts characters learn how those long ago events apply to their present celebrations.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: Black Nativity: Extended Musical Edition
Release Date: 7 October 2014
Black Nativity releases to home video (Blu-ray and DVD) in an Extended Musical Edition (now 143 minutes) with the following extras:
- Deleted Scenes
- The Music Behind the Film: He Loves Me Still
- The Music Behind the Film: Raphael Saadiq
- The Cast of Black Nativity
- Introducing Jacob Latimore
- An Inspiring Playwright: Langston Hughes
- Inside Production in Harlem
- Be Grateful
- Feel Good
- Photoshoot B-Roll
- Theatrical Trailer

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About the Reviewer: Donna Gustafson

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