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Black Nativity

Posted on

Black Nativity

Current Status:
In Season
95 minutes
Limited Release Date:
Angela Bassett, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker
Kasi Lemmons
Fox Searchlight Pictures

We gave it a C

In an adaptation of poet Langston Hughes’ acclaimed 1961 stage musical, Jennifer Hudson plays Naima, who got pregnant at 15 and ran away from her deeply Christian family in Harlem. Fifteen years later, a penniless Naima sends her son, Langston (newcomer Jacob Latimore), to spend the Christmas holiday with his churchgoing grandparents (Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker). The teenage boy winds up spending a lot of time with the church choir, who perform gospel-inflected carols — along with R&B and hip-hop numbers — throughout the film.

Bassett jumped at the opportunity to work on a film associated with Hughes, whose poems she remembers reading aloud at church and in pageants as an adolescent growing up in Harlem. ”My entry into acting was through his poetry,” she says. ”He spoke to my 15-year-old psyche.” The movie also gave her the chance to sing on film. Though she was a member of Yale University’s gospel choir, the actress downplays her vocal ability in conversation. ”I wasn’t a solo singer!” she insists, deferring to more golden-voiced costars such as Hudson and Mary J. Blige. In the end, the singing proved less challenging than the choreography for her and Whitaker. ”We were trying to move from one side [of the stage] to the other side with grace,” Bassett says. ”But we oftentimes just looked like somebody off the farm.”