Every holiday season, the movies and TV specials that are rolled out are of no interest to me. Santa’s cheery white face dominates nearly every screen. I am reminded by every department store’s playlist that the shoppers around me are dreaming of a “White Christmas,” and even Charlie Brown is starting to act funny.
Fortunately, these films make the the holiday season all worthwhile:
A southern minister relocates his entire family when he is assigned to minister a California church with a diminishing congregation. Though the church is on the brink of demolition, miracles are plenty during the Christmas season in this film starring Beah Richards, Lynn Hamilton, Robert Do’Qui, Juanita Moore, and Clarence Muse.
This melanated remix of The Wizard of Oz is a classic. And because in this version, Dorothy (Diana Ross) is swept away to Oz by a snowstorm—rather than a tornado—this spin-off totally qualifies as a holiday movie. Starring Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, Ted Ross as the Lion, Lena Horne as Glinda, and Richard Pryor as The Wiz, this 1978 film remains one of the most iconic and significant black movies of all time. Also worth watching is NBC’s 2015 television adaptation of the musical.
This film follows Reggie (Trent Cameron), a young boy who is about to be adopted by a loving family. Before the adoption is official, his would-be new mother dies in a car accident, and his newly-single adoptive father is deemed unfit to raise a child. The film features Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, and Sammy Davis Jr. (in his last role) as cast members; Eddie Murphy as the executive producer; and Stanley Clarke as the composer of the movie’s score.
In honor of Nicky’s Christening, the Banks family bestows him with lavish gifts. Not to be outdone, Will promises to get Boys II Men to perform for the christening party. Now he just has to pull it off.
Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston, Courtney B. Vance, Jenifer Lewis, Gregory Hines, and Loretta Devine star in this revamp of the 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife. Denzel plays the role of Dudley, an angel sent to help Rev. Biggs (Vance) keep his church doors open, despite predatory gentrifiers. However, Dudley finds himself falling for the reverend’s wife (Houston). The film was nominated for both Academy Awards and NAACP Image Awards, and its soundtrack remains one of the best-selling gospel albums of all time.
Soul Food is basically the perfect movie for any large, black, family gathering — especially during the holidays.
Ebenezer Scrooge becomes Ebony Scrooge (Vanessa Williams) in this reimagining of A Christmas Carol. Ebony is a rude pop diva with a big ego and a bigger lack of holiday spirit. However, that soon changes when she is visited by the ghosts of Christmas (one of whom happens to be played by TLC’s Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas).
After his partner passes away, Holiday (Ving Rhames), who moonlights as a drag queen, takes in a single mother struggling with addiction (Alfre Woodard) and her daughter Niki (Jesika Reynolds). When her mother succumbs to the pull of the streets, Holiday and Niki become a family of their own. Based on the Cheryl West play of the same name, Holiday Heart is a heartbreaking tale with strong performances. It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, an NAACP Image Award, and a GLAAD Media Award.
While Christmas shopping, the Proud Family encounters a homeless family at the mall. Against Oscar’s (stingy) wishes, Penny invites the family over to celebrate Christmas. When they arrive, the Prouds discover that the family actually celebrates Kwanzaa. Throughout the week, the family returns daily, teaching the Prouds about the Nguzo Saba, or seven principles of Kwanzaa and African heritage. The Prouds may get schooled on the holiday, but they also end up learning about the importance of family, heritage, unity, giving, and the true meaning of the holiday season.
From the Rankin/Bass duo that brought Christmas classics—Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974), Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970), Frosty the Snowman (1969) and The Little Drummer Boy (1968) — comes Santa, Baby!, a tale about a young girl who uses a Christmas wish to help bring inspiration to her songwriter father. The animated television special features the voices of icons such as Eartha Kitt, Patti LaBelle, Vanessa Williams, Tom Joyner, and Gregory Hines.
In the third installment of the Friday franchise, Craig (Ice Cube) and Day-Day’s (Mike Epps) apartment is robbed by a thieving Santa Claus. “Project Santa” not only gets away with their presents, CDs, and Day-Day’s baby pictures, but also their rent money. In a worse turn of fate, their landlord arrives on their doorstep with an ultimatum: pay rent by the end of the day or get evicted and face the wrath of her son (Terry Crews), who was just released from prison. As you can probably guess, the film follows Craig and Day-Day doing everything that they can to avoid the latter.
After his school gives him complete creative control over the Christmas play, Huey questions whether they are ready for it, declaring, “My vision would turn your world upside-down, tear asunder your illusions, and send the sanctuary of your own ignorance crashing down around you. Now, ask yourself: Are you really ready to see that vision?” They absolutely were not ready for his vision—“The Adventures of Black Jesus”—but we get the wokest Christmas episode of all time.
The film centers on Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah), a humble sales associate who is too shy to talk to her work-crush (LL Cool J), stand up to her manager, or even sing too loudly in the church choir. When she discovers she has a brain condition that leaves her with three weeks to live, she resolves to go out with a bang. Georgia empties her bank accounts, flies to a resort in Europe, and begins living the life she’s always imagined.
Christmas? Do you know how much that costs? Julius does, so he decides to go with a cheaper alternative—Kwanzaa.
Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut, Queen Latifah, Charlie Murphy, and Terrence Howard all star in this Christmas romantic comedy. In the film, a Mall Santa Claus (Chestnut) is told by a little girl that all she wants for Christmas is for her single mother (Union) to find a husband. So, he sets out to ensure that the family has the perfect holiday.
Based on the Donny Hathaway song of the same name, This Christmas follows the Whitfield family, who are gathering together for the holidays for the first time in years. The classic is helmed by Preston A. Whitmore II, and the knockout cast includes Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo, Chris Brown, Columbus Short, Regina King, Lauren London, Laz Alonso, Sharon Leal, and Mekhi Phifer.
Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, and Regina Hall reprise their roles in this sequel to The Best Man. After nearly 15 years, The Best Man gang reunites for the holidays at the Sullivan household (Calhoun and Chestnut). Old friendships are reignited… but so are old tensions.
Kasi Lemmons loosely adapts Langston Hughes’ play of the same name, to create this musical. The cast includes Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, Vondie Curtis-Hall, and Nas. The film follows Langston (Jacob Latimore), who spends the holidays with his estranged grandparents. During his visit, he discovers a tremendous amount about himself, faith, and the importance of family.
A Madea Christmas is Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of his own 2011 play of the same name. In it, Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford) recruits Madea (Perry) to accompany her on a surprise visit to see her daughter, after her daughter informs her that she will be unable to make it home for Christmas.
Tired of being asked about her Boaz, a successful businesswoman (Malinda Williams) brings an employee home for the holidays to masquerade as her fiance.
Mo’Nique, Nicole Ari Parker, Gabrielle Union, Keri Hilson, Jessie Usher, Danny Glover, Omar Epps, Kimberly Elise, John Michael Higgins, D.C. Young Fly, and Romany Malco appear in this comedy about the Meyer family’s first holiday after losing their mother. Mo’Nique is an obvious standout, as always.
In this five-minute music video, East Atlanta Santa visits a little girl for Christmas and leaves stacks under the tree. It technically is not a movie, but it makes the list… for the culture, you know?
The Snowy Day is a television movie adaptation of the Caldecott Medal-winning 1962 book of the same name. Written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, the children’s classic was the first full color picture book to feature a Black protagonist. It follows Peter (Donielle T. Hansley Jr.) as he journeys through the snow on a neighborhood walk to retrieve his grandmother’s signature holiday mac and cheese (this is peak blackness). The animated short features the voices of Laurence Fishburne, Regina King, and Angela Bassett, as well as the sweet melodies of Boyz II Men.
Let’s be real. Black Jesus? And that Black Jesus is John Legend? And Judas is“Terry from Power” Brandon Victor Dixon? And it’s choreographed by award-winning Camille A. Brown? And the costumes are designed by Paul Tazewell— who served us lewks in the musical versions of The Color Purple, Hamilton, The Wiz Live, and A Raisin in The Sun? This definitely makes the list.
Despite what we now know about the creator of this animated series, and the atrocities he committed…Fat Albert had a profound influence on many of our childhoods. I will leave it at that.