Christmas movies are as white as Santa’s beard and that needs to change
No one loves a Christmas movie more than I do. With their cozy cafe backdrops, characters holding mugs of hot chocolate or mulled cider, and dialogue that would make me cringe any other season of the year, it’s just not Christmas if I don’t watch at least one crappy Christmas movie (looking at you Princess switch 3).
But as I get older (and more and more cynical), it’s not hard for me to spot people of color in Christmas movies.
Because usually there isn’t.
Even though we all love to watch the same Christmas movies every year, they have become a reminder to me, a Malaysian born Christmas lover, of how ‘white’ Christmas is.
Since the basis of many Christmas movies is supposed to Charles Dickens‘ novel A Christmas Carol, I’m not really surprised. It’s a genre crowded with white characters, white stories, and white lore.
But there’s a reason we’re drawn to the same âwhiteâ Christmas movies year after year. When I chatted with the RMIT lecturer in Film Studies, Dr Djoymi Baker, she told me that part of it is because we’re addicted to the heartwarming feeling of a happy ending.
âWhile the industry likes to regularly renew their Christmas fare, there’s also a ritualistic solace in going back to the same old Christmas movies year after year,â she said.
More so, our re-watching of Christmas movies comes from wanting to absorb us in nostalgia. Dr Baker told me: “It is a longing for the past, but knowing that the past can never be fully recovered. “
I can understand wanting to feel nostalgic and a little melancholy during Christmas. Particularly because COVID-19 travel restrictions are preventing so many people, including myself, from seeing my family and friends.
Hell, even I can’t help but stare at all three Santa movies (even the third terribly shitty one) during the holiday season. But it has become more and more evident to me, and to other people of color, that the only Christmas that exists in the movies is a Western Christmas.
Not only that, but the people of color who are portrayed in classic Christmas movies aren’t portrayed accurately or very well. In A Christmas story, not only the marketed film like an âoriginal and traditional American Christmas,â but its archaic portrayal of the Chinese people makes them cook roast duck and sing Christmas carols with stereotypical accents.
Other Christmas movies are what LA movie reviewer Carla Renata, talking to MSN, called “mostly all-white movies, with a handful of blacks or Latinos.” Much like Peter, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, in Love in fact – a harsh review for a vacation favorite, I know.
There is some hope for Christmas: in recent years there have been more Christmas movies with various distributions.
Last christmas Malaysian-British features Henri golding as the main character, Tom Webster and Malaysian actress Michelle yeoh. The holiday calendar includes a range of black actors, including Kat graham and Quincy Brown. Same The Princess Switch, no matter how terrible it is, features characters played by Vanessa Hudgens who is of Filipino descent and Nick sagar, a British actor of Jamaican and Guyanese origin.
While this is a start to seeing more diversity, Christmas movies would not only benefit from the choice of non-white actors, but also by introducing more people of color into the production, direction, and writing of roles.
And that could mean that we actually start watching Christmas movies that show how other cultures and people celebrate Christmas. Because it’s not just Europe that marks December 25, many other countries and cultures do too.
I can only hope that in 10 to 20 years some of these movies will become classics that we take a loving look at. Because if we release the movies that we watch every year, it seems like people like me just don’t celebrate Christmas.
Emma Ruben is a freelance writer living and writing on Whadjuk Boodjar. She is on Instagram and Twitter where she discusses reading, writing and other high profile topics like reality TV.
Image: Disney / Santa Claus