This time of year, we’re inundated with holiday classic films like Home Alone and A Christmas Story as well as a plethora of made-for-TV (and now Netflix) selections. In fact, the Hallmark Channel has become so successful with its Christmas marketing campaing and its 21 Christmas films this year that other networks like Lifetime and Ion are trying to catch up. Of course they would, as Hallmark makes 30% or more of its ad revenue during the Christmas season alone. However, the problem, even if Fox News (as usual) seems obtuse about it is that Hallmark-style movies (Brad Jones, the Cinema Snob, pointed out that its become its own shorthand for small budget WASP cis-heterosexual Christmas films despite the network it appears on) exclude most of the population and, at worst, want us to regress back to the 1960s. At best, even the knock offs on Netflix, like the famous A Christmas Prince, only bring us up to about 1995 with represenation. This has to change.
Originally, I promised Midnight Voss that I’d have a list of holiday movies to watch with your girlfriend, and I will by the 24th. However, it was frustrating to be unable to find lesbian holiday films as well as, frankly, holiday movies where LGBT+ characters existed period. Also, you’ll notice as I continue to talk about Hallmark et al., that I’ll say Christmas movies. This is not a mistake. The only Hanukkah-themed one I’ve ever seen was Hitched for the Holidays where Joey Lawrence pretended to be engaged to a girl who was Jewish and part of the plot was each of them going home to each others’ families for the holidays.
That movie came out in 2012.
There hasn’t been a Hanukkah-based movie on Hallmark since (and that one was really only by half) and, of course, you won’t see Kwanzaa or Solstice mentioned. You also won’t see other major religious festivals for other groups, like Diwali or Ramadan get their own movies during their season of the year.
That’s just the start.
Slate has a great piece this year about the regressive nature of the Hallmark brand specifically (more about Netflix and other competitors in a bit). It’s not just that the movies are formulaic or cookie-cutter or that they’re romances with happy endings. Hell, Midnight, Cassie, and I all love a good romance and a feel-good story. It’s more that it’s the presentation of an idealized escape for Christmasland that feels like Mayberry or a Delorean trip back before 1964. The leads are always cis and het. The men are usually square-jawed brunets who run a farm or a family inn or are general country boys. The women are usually only diverse depending on if their blonde, brunette, or the occasional redhead and are typically the driven city woman who, by the end of the tale, will discove the magic of small town life and Christmas and give up all jobs and ambitions to be where her new true love lives. There are no poor people, there are no disabled people, there are never any LGBT+ period. The only religion around is Christianity and Christmas is the be-all and end-all, and there are few people of color. If you’re looking for a Native American or someone of Middle Eastern or Asian descent, you’ll be waiting a very long time. There is one movie this year, to be fair, headed by Spy Kid’s Alex Pena Vega, called Enchanted Christmas, in which both leads are Hispanic. Out of twenty-one movies this year between two networks, this is the only one with leads of color. (There are no interracial relationships on Hallmark either).
You do see African Americans the most in Hallmark films, but they’re often background players in street scenes or they’re the helpful best friend or ally there to support the white couple as in this year’s The Sweetest Christmas, Christmas at Holly Lodge, The Christmas Train, and several others. There’s something distinctly creepy about a network where for at least two months (they started before Halloween this year) where there’s a cis, white, WASP wonderland in which family values and happily ever afters are so homogenous and antiquated. For one thing, everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in a happy holiday. This subtle snubbing tells people of different faiths, ethnicities, colors, abilties, and the LGBT+ community that a peaceful, joyful holiday with family and a new love just isn’t for them.
And that really sucks.
Second, I wouldn’t pick on Hallmark as much, if they hadn’t also started a publishing arm this year. As I noted earlier in the year, Hallmark’s first submissions rules specified that they were only looking for male and female couples. They did, however, change that. To be fair, recently on their publishing twitter, they have been calling for #weneeddiversebooks and calls for characters of color, other holidays, and LGBT+ stories.
I’d love to give them the benefit of the doubt and see that next holiday season, they’re producing much more diverse content. They’re going to be making thirty-six movies after all, and they scraped the barrel dry so badly in 2016 that they literally had a film about an actress going to a small town to make a Hallmark christmas-style film and fall in love with the mayor/innkeeper there. In other words, to avoid diversity, Hallmark Inceptioned itself. However, the Slate piece also noted that:
Regarding diversity, their executive vice president for programming toldBloomberg Businessweeklast year, “Um … we are taking a look at that.”
That’s not terribly promising, nor are vague tweets promising to try. Sort of.
If Hallmark is on Twitter recruiting for diverse books and stories, then I sincerely hope that we’ll see that influence on the holiday movie slate of 2018. I just have learned from past experience that it’s dangerous to expect for too much (or anything at all).
To be fair, other networks like Ion, Lifetime, and Netflix don’t fare much better. Back when it still made holiday films, ABC Family was also celebrating very white Christmasses. However, I’ll admit that these channels seem to be at least in 1995 or only twenty years out of date compared to Hallmark’s almost sixty year regression. For example, in this year’s Lifetime movie A Very Merry Toy Store at least has a gay mayor/real estate agent (mayors in these movies are busy people) played by Mario Cantone. Netflix‘s A Christmas Prince has some ability diversity (although it’s more of an opportunity to pity the prince’s sister with spina bifida to be honest) and also has the ’90s stereotypes of sassy gay and sassy black best friends who help the heroine navigate her complicated love life. When Midnight and I watched this, we both wished we were watching a New York-set Christmas film about the more interesting best friends having zany adventures.
But this isn’t just a “where are our priorities” speech or a thesis on how having no diversity hurts everyone not considered main stream enough to feature in a low-budget Christmas film. This is me begging Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime…whoever to make more (or any) LGBT+ holiday films.
No matter how bad these movies are from save the dog park to Christmas to having a ten year high school reunion at Christmas to ice sculpting contests (yes more than one movie about that), I’ll watch it and eat it up. I like the holidays and I adore Christmas. I love putting my brain in park and watching a ton of sappy goodness. Similarly, there are so few queer-women centric films that I’ll watch all of them. Even if the budgets make Sharknado look like Titanic, I’ll watch it. Even if the acting isn’t the best, sign me up, because I desperately want to see people like me onscreen.
What I’m doing is offering someone—anyone—a business proposition. So far, 53 people have watched A Christmas Prince at least 18 days in a row . (Author’s note: I’ve seen it at least twice so far, once with Midnight, and I’ll probably watch it at least a couple more times). Whichever streaming service or channel creates a queer women centric holiday film is going to have that sucker on a loop with LGBT+ women across the planet from about October into January. That’s a lot of money and that would go for gay films, transcharacter based films, and films across all spectra of LGBT+ visibility and, to be honest, the other types of diversity Hallmark-like films don’t seem interested in.
Please, Hallmark, Ion, Lifetime, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix…etc. help us help you. Diverse customers would be happy to give you our money. If you represented us even in one or two films (it should be more, by the way), then we’d watch you on a loop. You have no idea how many people of different races, abilities, body types, ethnicities, religions, genders and sexualities want to enjoy a happy winter holiday film together with their own families and loved ones. Hint: it’s a lot.
So, please bring on that queer woman holiday film. I know there are books out there to adapt, maybe start there.
Because, seriously, the queer woman community will watch a movie for them so many times that it’ll make A Christmas Prince fans seem tame.