Christmas musical 'Black Nativity' hits a new note on big screen

Tue Nov 26, 2013 6:10am EST
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By Eric Kelsey

BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) - While growing up in Massachusetts in the 1960s and 1970s, Kasi Lemmons' mother took her every year to see the Christmas musical "Black Nativity" in Boston.

Now, the 52-year-old director of 2007 drama "Talk to Me" is bringing poet Langston Hughes' musical about family redemption to the big screen on Wednesday in a present-day adaptation starring Oscar winners Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker.

"I wanted to write a story that could continue 'Black Nativity' that was a contemporary story, that was a very accessible story, that was something anyone could relate to," Lemmons said in an interview.

Hughes' 1961 gospel musical-drama retold the biblical story of the birth of Christ featuring black actors for a black audience. In Lemmons' adaptation, the director said she wanted to tackle a modern, broken family's struggles against the backdrop of New York's historically black Harlem neighborhood.

"Unfortunately, that is a reality," Lemmons said about the family drama which tells the story of the Cobb family's fractured relationship with runaway daughter Naima, portrayed by Hudson.

The film, distributed by Twenty-First Century Fox Inc's Fox Searchlight Pictures, begins in Baltimore with a destitute Naima, facing eviction and struggling to make ends meet. She sends her teenage son Langston, an overt nod to the poet, to New York to live with the middle-class grandparents he has never met.

Langston, played by Jacob Latimore, is reluctant to embrace his grandparents - Harlem church leader Reverend Cornell Cobb (Whitaker) and Aretha (Angela Bassett) - as he tries to get to the bottom of the family secret: Why did his mother run away?

"Watching this family being broken and torn apart and seeing a child suffer because of ... a mistake that his grandfather made with his daughter that caused her to react the way that she did, which basically ended up destroying their relationship which eventually affected her son," Hudson said.   Continued...

U.S. actor Forest Whitaker poses for pictures during a press junket for his new film "Black Nativity" in Los Angeles, California November 2, 2013. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas