‘Black Nativity’ sort of adapts the Langston Hughes Christmas classic

Forest Whitaker tries to advice his grandson (Jacob Latimore) in "Black Nativity." Credit: Fox Searchlight
Forest Whitaker tries to advice his grandson (Jacob Latimore) in “Black Nativity.”
Credit: Fox Searchlight

‘Black Nativity’
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Stars: Jacob Latimore, Forest Whitaker
Rating: PG
3 (out of 5) Globes

Not a lot of Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity” winds up in “Black Nativity,” and that’s fine. The source was itself a reworking of existing material — the birth of Jesus — for a gospel setting. The film version goes much further: It’s present day, but the Christ business is more a backdrop. It’s not even baby Jesus who’s honored. It’s Hughes. The lead character, played by teen R&B singer Jacob Latimore, is actually named Langston, and he’s constantly, by everyone, being told about the importance of Hughes’ work.

This Langston is a Baltimore youth whose mom (Jennifer Hudson) can no longer provide for him. For at least Christmas, she decides to pack him off to her long-estranged parents: the Stern Reverend Cobbs (Forest Whitaker), who presides over a Harlem church, and his much warmer wife (Angela Bassett). Langston is both innocent and desperate, and he can’t decide whether to listen to his grandfather’s gnomic utterances about black history or turn to, shall we say, more direct ways of fixing his mother’s financial problems. And it’s also a part-time musical.

This is an unwieldly film, both ambitious and too modest, bold and sloppy. The musical aspects aren’t always smoothly integrated, and not just because Whitaker really, really doesn’t look like he wants to sing, as he’s forced to do briefly and weakly.

But sincerity wins out in the end. Writer/director Kasi Lemmons — whose “Eve’s Bayou” wound up at the top of Roger Ebert’s 1997 Top Ten list — wants to use Hughes to reflect on the modern day black experience, and do without the need to make it palatable for white audiences. She wants to talk about class not overall but amongst the black community, where some struggle on the streets while others live in lavish, ornate brownstones.

That the token homeless couple (Grace Gibson and Luka James) are pretty — very distractingly, amusingly pretty — is atoned for by the number they do. Not all the songs are memorable, but the acting, by the non-singers in the cast, are excellent. Whitaker works in notes of self-doubt and melancholy into what could have been a one-note authority figure. And Tyrese Gibson and Lemmons’ husband, Vondie Curtis-Hall, get a couple commanding scenes a piece.

This is a movie about the importance of family and faith; it even has T.D. Jakes as a producer. But even with a church-set climax, it doesn’t necessarily proselytize, and even questions whether faith and family are always reliable. It’s not a smooth production, but the world is better for it existing.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Rapper affiliate of Wu-Tang Clan 'cuts off own…

Rapper Andre Johnson, who has performed with New York outfit the Wu-Tang Clan, is in a critical condition after reportedly cutting off his own penis…

National

Cleavage complaint: Disneyland staffer orders curvy mom to…

A curvy mom-of-three says she filed a formal complaint after staff at Disneyland Resort in California ordered her to cover up her boobs. Melissa Behnken,…

International

Canadian charged in 'Heartbleed' attack on tax agency

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian police have arrested a 19-year-old man and charged him in connection with exploiting the "Heartbleed" bug to steal taxpayer data from…

National

Every dog has his day in court, in…

(Reuters) - Call him juror K-9.A computer glitch is likely to blame for a summons that called a German Shepherd to report for jury duty,…

Television

‘Survivor: Cagayan’ recap: Episode 8

Sure, it's called Survivor. But this season should really be called 'The Tony Show.'

Television

Jim Rash talks 'The Writer's Room' and amazing…

For Jim Rash, as the fifth season of "Community" comes to a close, the second season of "The Writer's Room" begins.

Television

'Dexter' star Jennifer Carpenter moves into producing role

The actress who played the title character's sister in "Dexter" is teaming up with producer George Stelzner to adapt Erika Hayasaki's book "The Death Class:…

The Word

Wahlburgers announce North America domination

Tuesday was a huge day for Donnie Wahlberg.

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox beat White Sox…

Red Sox walk 15 times in extra innings win

NBA

Kris Humphries on free agency, future with Celtics:…

Kris Humphries on free agency, future with Celtics: 'I hope to be back'

NBA

Celtics turn attention to NBA Draft, improve lottery…

Celtics turn attention to NBA Draft, improve lottery odds with loss

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April version

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April version

Wellbeing

This Week in Health: chocolate may prevent obesity…

Can chocolate prevent obesity and diabetes? Location of study: U.S. Study subjects: Mice Results: The positive health benefits of chocolate have been studied increasingly more…

Wellbeing

This Week in Health News: breastfed infants trying…

Are breastfed infants trying to prevent mom from having another baby? Theory: The act of breastfeeding not only brings mom and baby closer together –…

Wellbeing

Unexplained infertility may be caused by lack of…

Researchers have identified a protein on the egg's surface that interacts with another protein on the surface of sperm, allowing the two cells to join.

Tech

5 surprising facts about Google Glass

Your sex life could get more interesting.