Time was when Christmas movies were as reliably white as a North Pole winter. Such holiday classics as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street" came to define the American cultural psyche during the holidays for decades. Later films set around Santa's trip down the chimney -- including the blockbuster "Home Alone" franchise with a cumulative gross of $904 million, 1994's "The Santa Clause" and 2003's "Elf" -- opened Hollywood's eyes to the upside of decking theater halls with new Christmas stories.
But at the tail end of a banner year for African-American cinema, three new holiday movies written and directed by black filmmakers present an alternate vision to moviedom's traditional White Christmas.
Friday, "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" arrives in theaters with Hollywood's preeminent African-American movie kingpin, writer-director-star Perry, in drag as his gun-toting grandmother alter ego Madea.
Already in theaters, "Black Nativity," costarring Oscar winners Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker, is an unabashed feel-good adaptation of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes' widely staged 1961 gospel play, which chronicles the birth of Christ with African-American performers and traditional spirituals.
The movie that started the season is "The Best Man Holiday," a pre-Thanksgiving release plotted around the Christmas reunion of an upwardly mobile group of friends and exes, which took in more than $30 million its opening weekend and has grossed an impressive $67.6 million worldwide.
For Malcolm D. Lee, "The Best Man Holiday's" writer-director, three movies aiming for the intersection of holiday togetherness and black experience this year represents a mixed blessing.
"Three black Christmas movies within six weeks of each other makes it a bit nerve-racking," says Lee, who made his sequel to 1999's "The Best Man" for just $17 million. "But they're all so different. 'Best Man Holiday' is a comedy-drama. 'Madea's Christmas' is definitely a comedy. And ('Black Nativity') is more like a 'Les Miserables'-type of movie, a musical. That's what's great about the spectrum of African-American fare this year. There's a nice diversity of choices for audiences."