Diversity Under The TV Mistletoe

Image above from "The Holiday Sitter."

‘Tis the season (even beyond Dec. 25) to watch a heartwarming, mistletoe-adjacent holiday movie, chosen according to your own particular taste.

Maybe you opt for a relatively recent classic like “Elf” -- or less-well-known black-and-white stunners like “Remember the Night” or “It Happened on Fifth Avenue,” two of my favorites.

There’s always one required element: the lump-in-the-throat moment, with heart as well as entertainment value.

If you want to go extra-schmaltzy, there are Santa bags full of made-for-TV movies. As an industry observer, I have to bow to Hallmark Channel’s dominance in this area, especially as the ratings champ.

Until recently, Hallmark’s universe was restricted to the white-boy-meets-white girl-under-the-mistletoe plot.



Then, in 2017, responding to a question from the International Business Times, Bill Abbott, then CEO of Hallmark parent Crown Media Family Networks, called lack of diversity in its programming “an industry-wide problem," and promised “significant change over the years as we continue to evolve our content." 

Two years later, Abbott boasted that of the network’s 24 original holiday movies, four of them had black leads -- but the International Business Times pointed out that number was actually down from 2018, when five of Hallmark’s 21 original holiday movies had black leads.

Last year, seemingly kind-of-woke Abbott took a few steps back into bigot’s country. Leaving Hallmark after the company had apologized for pulling a commercial featuring a lesbian couple, he moved to GAC Media, whose content is touted as “family-friendly” -- code for heterosexual only.

Meanwhile, this year Hallmark continued its move toward diversity by airing its first movie with an almost all-Asian cast, “Big Fat Family Xmas.” It got mixed reviews from the Asian-American community, garnering many tweets about on-camera stereotypes, according to a post on Datebook.

I've got my own bone to pick with the two Hanukkah movies Hallmark has aired lately.  

In 2020, “Love, Lights, Hanukkah” featured a woman who discovers via a DNA test that she’s Jewish, which leads to romance and the lighting of her first menorah.

So the audience is introduced to Hanukkah practices via somebody also learning about them for the first time. That has an annoyingly anthropological tone -- as if Hanukkah were a foreign country where weird customs abound. Guys, latkes are delicious and even available at Trader Joe’s!

This year’s “Hanukkah on Rye” at least features folks who know they’re Jewish from the start -- but since they’re competing Jewish deli owners brought together in part by a matchmaker (shades of “Fiddler”!) it sounds as packed with stereotypes as a pastrami sandwich is full of cholesterol.

But maybe Hallmark’s holidayland just isn’t the best place to expect accurate Jewish representation. I’m amused to see my people in such a goyische (Gentile) place, but it's not exactly my heart's desire to be part of a cheesy holiday movie.

Still, LGBTQ folk might see things a little differently with this season’s “The Holiday Sitter,” Hallmark’s first Christmas movie with two gay romantic leads.

In a video on Hallmark’s website, the film’s star, executive producer and out gay actor Jonathan Bennett, speculates on how things could have been different if he -- as a 16-year-old sitting at home with his parents in Ohio -- could have seen “The Holiday Sitter.” “Think about how much that would've meant to me to see a love that looked like mine,” he says.

Now that’s a lump-in-the-throat moment.

Next story loading loading..