Black Nativity, the highly anticipated movie musical inspired by Harlem Renaissance author Langston Hughes’ original stage musical of the same name, opens in theaters on Thanksgiving Day. The musical, which debuted off-Broadway in 1961 with an all-black cast, retells the traditional story of the Nativity. This year’s release is a modern twist on an iconic classic.
The film tells the story of Langston, portrayed by actor and R&B artist Jacob Latimore, a frustrated teen who travels from Baltimore to New York City to spend Christmas with his estranged grandparents, the Rev. Cornell and Aretha Cobbs, played by Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett respectively. His single-parent mother, Naima, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, stays back home in Baltimore because of financial hardships. Unwilling to conform to his grandparents’ rules, Langston rebels. While trying to get back home, he finds himself on the path to discovering the true meaning of faith and forgiveness.
Directed and written by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), this uplifting holiday musical has no shortage of surprising, heartwarming musical performances from the film’s star-studded cast, which also includes Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige and Nasir “Nas” Jones.
This is Hudson’s first musical movie since her 2006 Oscar-winning performance in Dreamgirls. The Root sat down with the multitalented Hudson, who recently received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hudson talked about her love for acting, music and family and why she said yes when asked to join the cast of Black Nativity.
The Root: How was it working on a musical Christmas movie that has such a gospel influence, and how did you prepare?
Jennifer Hudson: I grew up singing in church and being in the choir. Back then they used to make me stand in the corner and just sing like you had done something wrong. I come from a singing background. Working on this film made me say, “Wow, I don’t think I ever seen anything like this before.”
The way we shot the film, I’m still trying to figure out how they put the musical aspect into just the script. It is like the songs were woven into the script. We literally went from lines to singing, but it still felt as though we were making a movie somehow. At times I would forget that it was a musical, but then it would be my turn to sing. It was so interesting.
TR: You have such a busy schedule with your music and film career. How do you balance motherhood?
JH: When I am working I try to have my son, wherever I am. I had to tell you about my baby’s debut. You may have seen his little hair in the bus scene; he’s actually sitting on someone’s lap. He is 4 years old, but it’s still a bit of a process with him when someone else is playing my son. He will say, “Mommy, that is not your son. I’m your son.”
Having him there is great. Right now he wants to be an actor, the next minute a wrestler, the next minute he is singing. So you know, I am so curious to see what he is going to be. I know he is going to take over the world.
TR: With Black Nativity being all about families and the holiday season, what kind of holiday traditions do you have in your family?
JH: In my family we will create an event just to come together. So during the holidays, one thing I love is that everyone seems to be of one accord. This is the time of year where you can bring everyone together and you have the perfect excuse to do it. That’s what I love most about the holidays.
TR: Do you have a favorite song on the soundtrack, and were there any surprising musical moments?
JH: My favorite song is “He Loves Me Still.” If you listen to the words, “None of us are perfect, but God still loves you.” Just like Angela’s character, Aretha Cobbs, said, “We all have done things, and that’s between us and God.” The words of the song are true. We all can relate because it’s from the heart. It’s my favorite song. Every time I listen to that song it gives me peace, it lifts me up, it centers me. When they were teaching the song to us, I was like, wow! This was a moment within itself.
TR: As an Oscar-winning actress and a Grammy-winning artist, would you say you are more passionate about music or acting?
JH: What I will say is this. At first I didn’t understand when asked this question, but someone randomly told me that “singing is your gift, and your acting is your reward from God for using your gift.” It’s all from God, so I love both.
I love everything and I hope I never have to choose. I always say, “Lord, you send me and I’ll go in any situation or place.” From Dreamgirls on, if God places me here, I have no choice but to be prepared. So I’m here prepared; so I just take it.