If you’re anything like me, you’re already deep into your holiday TV viewing. I’m not going to claim every Christmas-themed TV movie is a winner, but you do get a few good premieres every year. One of those fun new movies is Lifetime’s A New Orleans Noel, debuting Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. The film stars Keshia Knight Pulliam as Grace Hill, an architect forced to work on a renovation with college acquaintance Anthony Brown, played by Brad James. Their differing styles are the basis for romance as they work on the home of Anthony’s grandmother, New Orleans praline icon Loretta Brown, portrayed by the legendary Patti LaBelle. The movie’s director, Angela Tucker, spoke to The Root about her love of holiday movies and making New Orleans a central character of the story.
What makes A New Orleans Noel work so well is that it’s able to find a fresh vibe while staying true to the familiar Christmas movie formula. Before joining the project, Tucker became known for her holiday film reviews on Instagram. Her knowledge and love of the genre, as well as her love of New Orleans, made her the perfect fit for the movie.
“I think when you’re very familiar with the genre, it’s always kind of a balance of trying to give the audience what they want and expect, but giving them something different,” Tucker told The Root.
In addition to the stellar cast, the film’s most interesting character is the city of New Orleans. Though actual filming was split between NOLA and Mississippi, the city is central to the story. Its special Christmas celebrations provide the backdrop to Grace and Anthony’s romance. The culture of New Orleans also makes it clear this isn’t just any holiday movie, it’s a Black holiday movie.
“A bulk of the team, we live in New Orleans, so I know how important it is to New Orleanians to see New Orleans reflected beyond the things that you always see, but make it create a deeper sense of authenticity. That was really what we were going for with the film,” Tucker said. “We did about a handful of days in New Orleans, and we filmed in Natchez, Miss., which areas of it look a lot like New Orleans.”
“I think the other thing that we were interested in, in terms of the authenticity, is the story behind the story,” she said. “Ms Loretta is based on a real woman. And in her store, Loretta’s Pralines, is in the neighborhood of myself and one of the producers. We met with her, we went to her location and it just took on a life of its own. We met Ms Loretta and she’s an amazing woman. So, it’s really important to us that we were able to show this incredible New Orleans icon in the film.”
Beyond LaBelle’s authentic portrayal of Ms. Loretta, the Brown family feels like a real family that we could all know. They’re not a TV family. The way the audience is welcomed into their lives mirrors how Grace is instantly accepted by everyone. It was very important to Tucker that this didn’t feel like a story that any family could have been dropped into. This is a Black family celebrating their traditions and culture.
A New Orleans Noel premieres Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.