3 Stars — Uplifting
The integration found in Black Nativity does not stop with the joyful music of the black church with the Nativity story. Writer and director Kasi Lemmons also integrates fantasy with reality and betrayal with forgiveness. Making a clear presentation of the Gospel message that salvation and reconciliation are made possible through Jesus Christ, this musical tale of redemption is a worthy addition to your repertoire of Christmas events.
The impressive ensemble cast plays the family of 15-year-old Langston Cobbs (Jacob Latimore). Living with his mother, Naima (Jennifer Hudson), in Baltimore, he comes home one day to her desperate decision to send him to live with the grandparents he never knew because they are losing their home to foreclosure.
Proud and angry, Naima has not allowed her parents to know Langston because of their betrayal years before. But due to her difficult circumstances, she now she has no choice but to reach out and ask for their help on behalf of her son.
Traveling by bus to Harlem, Langston discovers that his grandfather is a prominent minister and that Naima is his only daughter. The Rev. Corneli Cobbs (Forest Whitaker) and his wife, Aretha (Angela Bassett), have suffered for years due to the loss of their daughter and relationship with their grandson. The reason for this is central to the tale, so we won't tell more of the story.
Although the tale is a musical parable with a predictable plot line, the meaning of Jesus' birth is well told by this parallel story unfolding on film. The hope for peace on Earth and goodwill among all people is something that eventually becomes personal in every individual's life, including that of the pastor and his family. To allow pride or distance to keep us from those we love and who love us is a human malady that needs the healing of God.
But even for a pastor's daughter, who knows the truth so well, to be humble and forgiving is not an easy task. Perhaps that is why the story of Jesus does not end in the manger but on the cross as He takes us from the promise of the manger to the fulfillment of the empty tomb. The power of the Black Nativity and its application to the freedom of the enslaved people of our world is joyfully portrayed in this film. It is a joy that is contagious.
» The moment when Langston met his father was in a jail cell. Do you find such events believable or contrived? Do you believe God orchestrates such meetings? Why or why not?
» It is the nature of forgiveness that we must humble ourselves and let go of our vengeance. What was it that you think allowed Naimi to do so now after all these years? Was it the confession and apology of her father? The love of her mother? The demands of her son? Or all of these and more? Why do you answer as you do?
» Having been raised in the church but betrayed by her pastor/father, Naimi did not find another church or raise her son in the church. Have you ever been hurt by those who lead a church? How did you keep their sins from coming between you and God?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.