Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

The halls are decked. You've risked life and limb to put up the Christmas lights. Now all you need is a bowl of popcorn and a holiday film to fill you with Christmas cheer. Well, you are in luck.

Today, we're joined by the cast of "The Perfect Holiday," a family film with an African-American take. It premieres today. Joining me in NPR's performance studio 4A are Queen Latifah, also known as Dana Owens, Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut and Faizon Love. And we are not alone. We have invited a studio audience to join in the festivities.

SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE.

Welcome everybody.

Mr. CHESTNUT (Actor): Thank you.

Mr. LOVE (Actor): Thank you.

Ms. UNION (Actress): Thank you.

QUEEN LATIFAH (Actress, Singer): Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: My queen. Let me start with you. Your company, Flavor Unit Entertainment, was one of the producers of the film. Now, you were kind enough to stop by a couple of months ago, so we know how many projects you have going on, so why were you attracted to this?

QUEEN LATIFAH (Actress, Singer): Well, you know, we kick around a lot of ideas of things that we'd like to produce as film projects. And my partner, Shakim, and one of - and the director of the film, Lance, were trying to think of any - of a Christmas movie with an African-American cast and could not think of one. And so we decided we needed to make one. So Lance came in with a really cool script, and we went out and got the financing to make it happen. We're very blessed to assemble this wonderful cast and made it happen.

So we've been fortunate. I mean, you had "This Christmas" come out, so you got two this year, which will be great. Ours is completely different, but it's still nice to have a couple to choose from.

MARTIN: In the movie, you play a very down-to-earth Christmas angel. You're the narrator of the film, and you have a Grinch-like counterpart, who is played by Terrence Howard. Let's listen to a clip.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Perfect Holiday")

QUEEN LATIFAH: (As Mrs. Christmas) There it is. Oh, the first snowflake of the season.

Mr. TERRENCE HOWARD (Actor): (As Bah Humbug) The technical definition of a snowflake is ice crystal surrounding a particle of dirt.

QUEEN LATIFAH: (As Mrs. Christmas) It's buttery, supple, with a clean finish -just like Christmas is supposed to taste.

Mr. HOWARD: (As Bah Humbug) So, technically, you are eating dirt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That's kind of a nice, testy exchange, which sets the tone, I think. Gabrielle Union is a divorced single mom of three, and she's kind of having a tough time in her life when Morris Chestnut comes into her life, and we'll let them tell you just how. But I read that you wanted to make a holiday film that kind of deals squarely with divorce and Christmas and how that feels. Why?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Well, I think it's an honest reflection of what America is like. And I think one of the best things about this film is showing how these kids are dealing with the effects of their parents splitting up, and the power struggles that exist, the loyalties that you want to keep towards your parents.

Every kid, including myself - being from a sort of broken home, if you will -always has this hope that their parents will get back together. But as reality comes along and time passes, you realize that your parents are going to start to date other people. And I know for me, my brother was, like, identical to the character of John-John. Any guy that came around my mother was like, he got the evil eye. He got a attitude. And he was like, you ain't my daddy, you know, kind of thing. And if he could have sabotaged it all, he would have.

But eventually, you know, he had to kind of learn that my mom needed love, too, and so did daddy, and it was cool after a while. But I think it was important that these kids get to - I mean, that we sort of get to see what happens when kids go through these things.

MARTIN: Especially at the holiday time, where…

QUEEN LATIFAH: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: …so - emphasis is so much on family…

QUEEN LATIFAH: Absolutely.

MARTIN: …and that kind of that perfect family.

Gabrielle, I mentioned that you play a single mom of three. Tell us a little bit more.

Ms. GABRIELLE UNION (Actress): Well, I remember when Queen and Shakim called, I was on the beach in Miami hanging out the pool. We finally got a script, because I've been bugging them for - you know, when are we going to work together? When we going to work together? Like, we got it. Single mother with three kids - eh, wrong. No way. You know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

QUEEN LATIFAH: Hot single mother of three kids...

Mr. MORRIS CHESTNUT (Actor): That's right.

Ms. UNION: Yeah. I was like, you know, in Hollywood, you get some kids. The next thing you know, you're off the Maxim Hot 100 list. You know, and you got osteoporosis the next week. So I was little nervous. And then, you know, Shakim's like, just read the script. And I read it and I was like, I don't think this perspective has been told. And especially, you know, we as women, we get conditioned that, you know, once you get a family, everything is about your family and, you know, any hope, dream, aspiration, passion that you may have had all has to go into your kid.

But what ends up happening is women, we don't leave anything for ourselves. And I think that's, you know, what I was kind of drawn to in the character of Nancy. And the fact that she says all I want for Christmas is a compliment - I think, we sort of forget how far kind words can really go.

MARTIN: And Morris, how do you come into her life?

Mr. CHESTNUT: Well, her daughter actually overhears her saying all she wants is compliment, and I'm playing a department store part-time Santa, and during the line for the…

MARTIN: How come I never met a Santa like you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But I digress.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHESTNUT: And so her daughter sits on my lap, and I ask her what she wants for Christmas. And she says, you know, I just want a nice man to give my mother a compliment. And then she - I said, well, who's your mother? And she points to this, and you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHESTNUT: And that's when the comedy ensues.

MARTIN: Okay. And eventually, you do meet. And you meet kind of cute. So let's play that clip.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Perfect Holiday")

Mr. CHESTNUT: (As Benjamin) So, yeah. So, you know, I was - I'm from out of town. I was just walking by. I had a little craving for some deep fruit jellybeans. You know, so I just came on in. And I sell office supplies and it gets kind of boring, you know. What about you?

Ms. UNION: (As Nancy) I'm from town, a single mother with three kids. And I just bought a stapler.

Mr. CHESTNUT: (As Benjamin) Well, that's good. That's good. Well, if you ever need anything…

Ms. UNION: (As Nancy) I'm sure - I - oh, need, whatever you have - by way of office supplies.

Mr. CHESTNUT: (As Benjamin) Well, I guess, you know, paper clips, pens…

Ms. UNION: (As Nancy) Pens, so many pens. You know, I'll be - oh, my God, I need a pen.

Mr. CHESTNUT: (As Benjamin) You need some pens?

Ms. UNION: (As Nancy) I need a pen. And I don't have a pen, but you have pens.

Mr. CHESTNUT: (As Benjamin) Then I'm your guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Okay.

QUEEN LATIFAH: I love it.

Ms. UNION: Office supplies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I think it is fair to call the two of you kind of the king and queen of black romantic comedy. You've been love interest in several films together. There's "The Brothers," "Breakin' All The Rules."

So, Morris, I'm going to ask you…

Mr. CHESTNUT: Yes?

MARTIN: What makes Gabrielle so believable as your heart's desire over and over again?

Mr. CHESTNUT: Well, let me just say this, you know, in terms of working with Gabrielle. We have worked together several times before, but aside from her obvious good looks in there, and she's very talented, but she's a good person. And, you know, when you're working on a film set you're working 12 or 14-hour days, you want to be around good people that you really just enjoy being around and you trust. And that is Gabrielle. You know, you come to set and, you know, she smiles and she's witty and she's smart. So that's, I think, that's why our chemistry is so strong.

MARTIN: Okay. And Gabrielle, what about Mr. Chestnut? What is it about him that makes him - that keeps the casting folks keep going to him as the leading man?

Ms. UNION: You know, I take it back to this one scene where he - maybe some of you can, you know, testify - in "The Best Man," where enters, I think, it's like the first time you see him. And then he - I forget what the song is, but it's in my brain. And he has that trench coat on, and kind of…

(Soundbite of whooshing sound)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: …on his back. And it's just that entrance, and it's that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: I remember I was on a date, and I dropped my date's hand and I believe I said, excuse me, damn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: And I think it's that, that reaction that people have. I had it. I think every one I know has had it. But we - you know, just traveling around with him, everyone has it. So I think it's that thing.

MARTIN: Well, what is it? Forgive me, but there are a lot of fine men in Hollywood. So what is it about Morris Chestnut that…

Ms. UNION: Because he doesn't know he is fine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: And I think the day he kind of figures it out, I don't know what he's going to be like, but the guy that I see all the time is a gentleman. He's mannerable. He treats everyone the exact same…

MARTIN: Not pretentious.

Ms. UNION: …not at all. He's just extremely humble and hardworking, and there's no diva at all, you know? I think what gets in the way of a lot of chemistry is, you know, a man not being a gentleman. Talking about, hey, you want to come rehearse in my room? And you're like, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: But he's just a gentleman, and he treats everyone with so much respect. It allows for - creates chemistry to happen.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Yeah. There's Faizon. Faizon the one like, girl, you want to rehearse in my room? My - come in to my chair, and let's get these lines down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I want to bring Faizon on in a minute. But, Gabrielle, I'm sorry, you have had some fine leading men in your day: Idris Elba, Will Smith, LL Cool J. So, you know, just between you, me and all these people up in here, who's the best kisser?

Ms. UNION: Well, you know, all of them are married, and I know their wives all listen to NPR. So they're all - you know, well, my husband, of course is. But they're all very respectful. All the men you just named are very respectful, and you know - and not just because he's sitting here, but actually the kiss that had the most magic didn't actually end up in the movie.

Mr. CHESTNUT: In the movie. Right.

Ms. UNION: The most magical kiss that happened during "The Perfect Holiday" was between…

Mr. CHESTNUT: Gabrielle and Faizon.

Ms. UNION: Between me and Faizon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOVE: Are we breaking this now? I thought we were going to…

Ms. UNION: We might as well just do it.

MARTIN: Tell it. Tell it.

Mr. LOVE: Are we going break this here or…

Ms. UNION: I think we owe it to the people of NPR.

Mr. LOVE: Oh, you want to tell it how it happened? I mean, it's magic.

MARTIN: Yeah. Let's hear it.

Mr. CHESTNUT: Well, basically, when you work together and you're shooting a movie and, you know, and you…

Mr. FAIZON LOVE: Long hours.

Mr. CHESTNUT: Long hours. And you know, you go out and you want to have a good time. There was an incident, and Faizon tells it best to where, he and Gabrielle encountered some magic together off the set.

MARTIN: Off the set.

MARTIN: Cue Faizon.

Mr. LOVE: Well…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOVE: I think it was one of those script rehearsal scenes. And then - it was a long night, whatever, and I guess she suggested let's go to a club or something like that?

Ms. UNION: Yeah, we had, you know, run lines.

Mr. LOVE: Yeah, run lines. And there was just a moment where we were kind of looking at each other and then we just started kissing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm sorry. Were there witnesses? Can I - were there…

Mr. LOVE: Oh, there was a whole club. Yeah.

MARTIN: Can you testify to that?

Ms. UNION: Oh, there's a whole club right there as witnesses.

Mr. LOVE: It's…

Ms. UNION: Some have varying interpretations. Some people saw it little differently. Maybe some people could have seen Faizon say, Gab, come here, I got something to tell you. And I say, yeah? It's — the music is so loud, come closer, closer. And I'm, yeah, yeah? And then some might have seen him maybe grab the back of my head and just, you know, lay one on me, a la Snoopy and Lucy…

Mr. CHESTNUT: For 10 minutes.

Ms. UNION: In Peanuts.

Mr. CHESTNUT: What I saw was a very slow and very…

MARTIN: And what did security see when they came? Just…

Ms. UNION: They saw a criminal and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: You know.

MARTIN: Sounds very romantic.

If you're just joining us, we're talking with the cast members of "The Perfect Holiday" — Queen Latifah, Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut and Faizon Love before a live studio audience.

Now, Faizon, you play Jamal, the loyal best friend and right-hand man or should I say elf to Morris Chestnut's Santa. Let's listen to a scene where you were trying to test Santa's ethical code.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Perfect Holiday")

Mr. LOVE: (As Jamal) Let me ask you a question.

Mr. CHESTNUT: (As Benjamin) Got it.

Mr. LOVE: (As Jamal) Say, a little snot-nosed kid like the one, you know, what if he came? You know, Santa, I stole an Escalade. I need you to get me some rims, some spinning rims. Does that betray the whole Santa trust thing?

Mr. CHESTNUT: (As Benjamin) Okay. But why would a child come up to me and say he stole an Escalade because I don't…

Mr. LOVE: (As Jamal) Because you're working on mall, dawg, part time.

Mr. CHESTNUT: (As Benjamin) That's why you ain't Santa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, Faizon, I have to say… That's right. You're no bit player here. You've made nearly 40 film and television appearances.

Mr. LOVE: Uh-huh.

MARTIN: So let's play "Inside the Actors Studio". What was your motivation for your role as an elf?

Mr. LOVE: With this? Well, what I brought the story to Queen…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: Yes. There was no elf. There was no elf.

Mr. LOVE: There was no elf. And I — because I just — we made something funny here. We need — I don't know, I'm just, you know, it was just fresh. I've never played the elf. I never. Gabrielle Union, you know. This cast - I always want to work with La. So it's that. It wasn't — I don't have no motivation behind what I do.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. LOVE: If it's crazy, I'm a do it.

MARTIN: Well, I don't want to give everything away, but you do get some play in this film. We'd like to ask you if you'd ever like to be the romantic lead? Would you like to be Santa?

Mr. LOVE: I don't know. Of course. I mean, I think I am a romantic lead. I think I do all right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOVE: If you're like — that don't answer my question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: It just — it seems to me that we've broken a lot of barriers in Hollywood over the years and, you know, you might disagree, but if you do, I'd love to hear more about it. But it does — it still seem and you all are obviously lovely people, but it does seem to me that the romantic lead still have to maintain, there's a certain…

Mr. LOVE: A certain look?

MARTIN: There was a certain look. And I just wonder if there's a point which another barrier gets broken where people can be the object of our hearts.

Mr. LOVE: Of course. I mean, but I look at it as like, where's my piece to this puzzle? So if I — if there's a project they're like, oh, yeah, that made sense of Gab and I doing another film where, you know, she falls for me and I don't want anything to do with her or something like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOVE: It make sense.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOVE: I get it. You know, she calls me at three o'clock in the morning. What time did you come in? That kind of thing, I get it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOVE: So with just depends on what the project is and anybody on this crew, I'll do a film for free for any, you know, it's — this is a kind of crew we got right here.

MARTIN: And I should mention that in addition to the four of you who were kind of to join us here, there are several other heavyweights in the film. There's Charlie Murphy, who plays Nancy's ex-husband hip-hop producer J-Jizzy; comic Katt Williams; Jill Marie Jones, who a lot of people know from the TV series "Girlfriends." With all of these African-American stars on the upswing, you know, Morris, is there a black pack in Hollywood? Do you seek each other out to work with? Do you…

Mr. CHESTNUT: Well, you know, I think, especially and particularly with this particular film, we, you know, it made it easier because we didn't really have that much time for pre-production. So, you know, whenever they asked us who we would like to work with, you know, like Gabrielle is very good friends with Rachel and Jill…

Ms. UNION: And Jill.

Mr. CHESTNUT: …you know. And actually, it was the first time that Faizon and I had actually worked together, but we worked it out.

Mr. LOVE: It was like (unintelligible).

Mr. CHESTNUT: We worked it out.

MARTIN: Rachel being Rachel True.

Mr. CHESTNUT: Rachel being Rachel True.

MARTIN: Was one of the girls who plays one of Gabrielle's girls in this film (unintelligible) support.

Mr. CHESTNUT: Exactly. But it actually — it really helped with the chemistry. You know, when you're familiar with someone and you, like I said, you trust someone that you'd like to work with.

MARTIN: That's — it just seems that the parts, it seems to be improving. There seemed to be more work. There's more work for people than there has been in the past. But it seems like a lot of you going up to the same roles. Is it hard to maintain friendships?

Mr. UNION: No, I think, you know, this month, and if you see on the cover of Essence magazine, it's me, Sanaa and Nia, and the whole reason why they came to us is because we are friends. And people are like ah, they're always, like, how are you guys friends? But I was like, you know, I came to the realization a long time ago that if you want to Sanaa or you don't want me…

MARTIN: Sanaa Lathan.

Ms. UNION: If you want Nia Long, you don't want me, and then it all works out. In a way, I'd like to say, it's like, if, you know, if we're all going for the same part, of course, I want it. You know, we're all competitive people. But if I don't get it, I want somebody, you know, I can ask for a loan, you know? I want to know where the money went.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: But no. And like, when you say the black pack, I think the black Hollywood community is kind of like a black pack. It's small. We all know each other. So people are like, oh, what was it like meeting Katt? I'm like, I met Katt years ago. I mean, you meet people, you know, hanging out at the club. You meet them at different events around town because it's very small in the auditioning room. You know, like, everyone is kind of auditioning for the same thing. You see people all the time. So — and I think, so, yeah, when you get, you know, one of us who gets into a position of power, yeah, you go back to the people that you know. And so it's a wonderful thing.

MARTIN: Just to clarify. You're talking about the cover of Essence which featured you, Sanaa Lathan and Nia Long…

Ms. UNION: Yes.

MARTIN: …the three divas on the cover of this month's Essence.

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm joined by Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut, Faizon Love and Queen Latifah.

Latifah is also the producer of "The Perfect Holiday". It premieres today. We'll be back with the stars of "The Perfect Holiday" and questions from our studio audience in just a few minutes.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

I'm joined by Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut, Faizon Love and Queen Latifah. Latifah's also the producer of "The Perfect Holiday." It premieres today.

Going back to you, my Queen, this is something I asked Regina King when she was here. You were kind enough to mention that she has another holiday movie out called "This Christmas."

QUEEN LATIFAH: It's doing very well so thanks for your support on that.

MARTIN: But, you know, on the one hand, you can make a project work like this. You're one of the producers of the film. You can get movies made with all kinds of families living all kinds of lifestyles. Gabrielle in this movie, she's living a very mainstream life. The kids are in soccer. They're in ballet. They're not, you know, everybody doesn't have to be in the 'hood. But these films are still presented as niche projects. They are presented as films for the whole family, but not necessarily for every family. But this is more than 20 years after an African-American television family headed by Bill Cosby absolutely dominated television.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: So why are these films still presented to us as black movies? Are we ahead of where we were or are we behind?

QUEEN LATIFAH: I don't know that we're - I'm not going to say we're behind nor are we ahead. I think economics always have a lot to do with it. Unfortunately, I believe that when you depend on a studio system, it's much easier to keep these films as niche films because it requires less money to make them, less money to promote them, to market them, which means the studios have to — they get to spend less and they make more.

And so, for us, it's really about trying to continue to push that dollar up, to push the deals up, even if the dollar amount in the front is not right to spread it out in the backend so that everyone gets to — get a piece of the pie. And for us, when we promote these films we make sure that it's understood. That it — this may be a black cast, but it's not a black film, you know?

(Soundbite of applause)

QUEEN LATIFAH: And I think you've been able to see that. I don't think that the public is as ignorant as or naive as some studios might want them to be. It's just like, you know, you go promote something on BET and every black person is going to watch it. And I think that's disrespect to African-Americans, just like if you put something on Telemundo and every, you know, Latino person is supposed to go buy it.

I think that that has been the ignorance in terms of marketing and, you know, us at Flavor Unit, we always been about creating projects from beginning to end, and not just, you know, creating projects to give to the public but to — we have a vision of how to give it to the public and how it should be presented. And so marketing is as important to us as creating a film, as producing it.

MARTIN: Okay. But you have demonstrated crossover appeal for…

QUEEN LATIFAH: Right.

MARTIN: …you know, whatever that means. I mean, you have been in some very high dollar Hollywood productions like "Chicago" and so forth and you've, you know, produced CDs in all kinds of genre. You recently did one in a big band classics and standards and things like that. So — but it just seems interesting that in the film work, the stuff that you do, why can't this family be the metaphor for all families?

QUEEN LATIFAH: They are the metaphor for many families. And I think, once again, I think it's about how the public receives it. And then you guys may have different opinions on this, but for me, you know, when I watch a movie, I don't necessarily — I think everybody tries to see a little bit of themself in a movie somewhere or someone that they know. If you can't relate to a lot of these characters then you just, you know, you might just be a different person, but you don't have to be one of them to enjoy the film.

And I think that what's happening and what we're starting to see is that they're — well, for us, it's been about making films that are — that go to sort of middle of even African-Americans. Everything is not going to be about the 'hood and drugs and guns. And I mean, we've seen that, we grew up in that, a lot of us. So we don't need that. I mean, we don't — you don't need it for us to make it. What you need is for us to show all the different sides of our lives.

And I think that's part of the reason Martin was a hit, why the Cosbys were a hit. Some people couldn't relate to the Cosbys because they were like, this is a dream. This is a fantasy. But it's not to a lot of families. There are a bunch of Huxtable families out there, and we've seen that. And if anything that's only increased.

But I think it's about having the opportunity to present a lot of different sides of who we are. So there's, I mean, it's the same as being white. They get to show all 360 degrees of being white. You could be trailer trash, you could be a billionaire, and everything in between. You know, you could be some eccentric who doesn't want to be a part of society. You could be someone who's in the clubs and at — everywhere, every day, in people's faces.

And I think that's part of the thing is for us to be able to present all the sides of who we are. Black is not just one person or one style or one thing. And so like for me, when I go in and try to produce a movie, it's very important that I can earmark a certain amount of marketing dollars to go where I say they need to go, you know? Not to just go - because people don't get it. There are still a lot of people who were entrenched in Hollywood who have this back-in-the-days mentality and they got the power and they got the money.

So when we get in a position where we can green-light a movie or we can influence how those dollars are spent, we have to do it. I make sure that each one of my sets looks like America. If I don't do it, I will have a white male set and that's just how it is. People kind of go with who they know, they hire who they know, who they've kind of worked with before. I make sure that they go find someone, you know, who is qualified. And so that this crowd around me that I have to live with for months at a time looks like what I want it to look like, you know, that every time I say some slang word at least one person out there knows what the hell I'm talking about, you know what I mean?

And if you didn't, then, hey, somebody just learned a new word, and that's to me what is about. So it's always going to be a struggle because this is not a business that we created. We still don't dominate it, nor do we need to. But I think we need to definitely use our power as much as we can to make sure that we change that picture because this is just a family film, and it's unfortunate that we have to say a black cast, and a black this, or it's for everyone, of, it's for the main - I mean, it's ridiculous after all this time, you know. But it - this is America.

MARTIN: Faizon, do you want to add something?

Mr. LOVE: She said everything I want to say.

MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: See…

Ms. UNION: I want to add on to that because we've been having this conversation amongst ourselves as we've been traveling the country and we…

Mr. LOVE: (Unintelligible) other people.

Ms. UNION: Yeah.

Mr. CHESTNUT: Yeah.

Ms. UNION: …because, you know, it's been interesting. I think it kind of boils down to the size of the budget, determines if you become raceless or if it's a niche film, you know what I mean? Because when I did "Bad Boys," it was all black and Latino cast. We only had one white person in our cast, Joe Pantoliano, and that was never brought up, you know. It was a nonissue, and then they always say well, black movies don't do well overseas. We made the bulk of our money overseas. We got to do the whole press rollout throughout overseas that you see people doing, and it was never once brought up. And then I started thinking today, ask Russell Crowe what it was like to be in a black movie? Well, he was in one.

Mr. LOVE: Yeah.

Ms. UNION: You know, somebody asked me this morning, well, white people don't go to black movies. It's like, a lot of white people went to go see "American Gangster," and that's a black movie. It's about a black man, Russell Crowe happened to have a supporting role in a black movie. Did anyone ask Russell Crowe what that felt like?

MARTIN: You know, that's interesting, yeah.

Ms. UNION: You know?

MARTIN: I wonder why not?

Ms. UNION: I think it goes down to - I think it comes to budget, you know. You can look at Morris' film "The Game Plan." A lot of people of color in that film, the Rock's you know, a man of color, Brian White, Morris Chestnut. Was that ever an issue or was it just a kid's movie about football. So I think it comes down - if your budget's less than 10 million and you have, you know, a group of people of color, then it becomes that kind of movie. And it's, like that's interesting. With "The Transformers" nonissue, a very diverse cast.

MARTIN: But also those were action movies. That's one of the other things you've noticed is - not to belabor the point. It was just interesting because I know that - because you're a producer, you got the project. You were able to get the project going. I wanted to know what that sort of like and how that works. But you see, males like, you know, like Will Smith, in an action film, race is often not sort of discussed, but then when it becomes a family film, an ensemble, when they're dealing with family dynamics.

Ms. UNION: But even "Pursuit of Happiness." It wasn't thought as a black movie. There's, basically three people in that movie: Him, Thandie and a black child. Never once would it even come up.

MARTIN: But that film takes place mostly at work.

Ms. UNION: At work but with his child. It's a family drama about this man's struggle, you know…

MARTIN: Well, I guess besides the question, do you feel…

Ms. UNION: …a nonissue. I think some people become raceless once you get to a certain level.

Ms. LATIFAH: Yup.

Ms. UNION: (Unintelligible)

Mr. LOVE: I need you to stop the whole - no, really, it's like the whole - I think a guy asked me how did I - what do you say, how do we like doing an African-American Christmas movie? I ain't making movies with continents involved. What are you talking about?

Ms. UNION: Exactly.

Mr. CHESTNUT: Yeah it is. That's (unintelligible) not what it is.

Mr. LOVE: We're just making a Christmas movie? What do you - and you're talking about? It's like, you go see "Superman," it's like, I would say I want to go see a white "Superman" movie. A white American "Superman" movie. It's just a movie. Period.

Ms. LATIFAH: But you know what I also think? I also think that there's a - that obviously, in America, we have, we're in serious denial about racism and about how we look at race. And I think the fact that we don't confront it, deal with it, recognize it for what it is.

When I read a script and it says, Jane, 30, and then, Elaine, 35, African-American, what am I supposed to assume? Jane was white, you know what I mean? It's like from the page, yeah. Instantly from the page, you know what I mean? It's like, Jane is unclear. She is a noncolor; she is not even human. She's just Jane, and she's 30. But I'm supposed to assume that she's white.

That is instantly racism, from the page. Why can't Jane, white, whatever. This one, African-American, whatever, I mean, it's like - but as soon as you differentiate, then we're already making it clear what, who is what color and us making all those assumptions about those people, and I think that's because we really don't deal with our feelings about race or about racism or about different cultures and colors and creeds in this country, and we have a serious history of it. And I think as long as - and look at them all that the hate crimes are up now, I mean, I think we really have to deal with the fact that we do have some issues when it comes to race. And the longer we ignore it, the more were we perpetuate it and use it against us.

It's very easy to use race against you, you know, or classism. That made it really all to keep you with in one kind of a particular place. The haves are always going to, you know, play that card on other people and mess with people's heads because it keeps us on the place that we are supposed to be.

And I think that we are smarter than that. We really need to become a lot wiser as Americans, and really start, you know, squelching that whole thing but.

MARTIN: We're talking with the cast members of the new film "The Perfect Holiday," Queen Latifah, Gabriel Union, Morris Chestnut and Faizon Love, before a live studio audience who came prepared with some questions.

Ms. CHANTEL HARLEY: I'm Chantel Harley. My question is,in Hollywood, are there stories that are not being told on screen?

Mr. CHESTNUT: Wow. You know, the thing about Hollywood is that, you know, a lot of times, you know, people, they don't reinvent the wheel, you know. There's very few true original stories, you know. There's old stories rehashed and then packaged it in a different way. And basically, a lot of the best stories are, you know, they come from real-life experiences. So in terms of stories not being told, I mean, there's always a story there, it's just that the story that, you know, people choose to project on film.

Ms. LATIFAH: I think there are some stories that are not being told because they're unorthodox and they're unusual in terms of the kind of the mainstream thing. So if you hear about some kid who, you know, became some scientist, it might not be as juicy, typically juicy…

Mr. LOVE: (Unintelligible) common, right?

Ms. LATIFAH: …as what you, you know. But there are some really interesting stories out there. I just - they might come at a package that might maybe some studios don't know how to sell to the people.

Mr. LOVE: Market it.

Ms. LATIFAH: Yeah. They just don't get it out there.

Mr. LOVE: There's a lot of stories. "American Gangster" is basically "Super Fly" remixed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Victor? Victor Holliday, you had a question?

Mr. VICTOR HOLLIDAY: Welcome to all. Thank you for being here. And my question was: What is the perfect holiday for each of you, if you could paint that picture for us in a few words.

Ms. LATIFAH: Oh, for me, it's - number one, is no work. And number two, just me with my family and friends chilling somewhere, singing Christmas carols, drinking eggnog with a little, with a little spike to it, and just enjoying each other's company and not having to work, once again.

MARTIN: All right.

Mr. CHESTNUT: Well, that's, I mean, that's mine exactly. I just really enjoy spending the holidays on a family, you know. You see people you haven't seen in months, sometimes years, and, you know, you guys cook all these good meals and watch football all day.

MARTIN: Gabrielle?

Ms. UNION: And not that I don't like my family, but this year…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: This year, I got my Christmas shopping done before we left and made sure everyone's, you know, happy and all that. But this year, me, Essence Atkins, Sanaa Lathan and Nia Long, Regina Hall are all going to Africa for two weeks as a part of a travel show called "The Homecoming." So hopefully, that will be the new perfect Christmas, perfect holiday.

Ms. LATIFAH: That's cool. That's cool, Gabs. You know? I see how you get down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LATIFAH: I was going to go to Africa, too, but it's getting expensive. But I could have, you know, I could have rolled with the show but nah, you know? Taking your friends with you.

MARTIN: Well, now, she heard about that trip - she heard about that trip to Greece you had last year where…

Ms. LATIFAH: Okay.

Ms. UNION: Someone went to Greece?

MARTIN: Well, you know…

Ms. UNION: I'm going to (unintelligible).

Ms. LATIFAH: I see where Egypt had sent all of their information, that's all I was saying. It's a nice, (unintelligible), fabulous…

MARTIN: We've heard about that trip. You told us about that trip. So we'll just move on.

Ms. LATIFAH: All right. You don't have to tell on me, Michel, you know.

MARTIN: I know, I know.

MARTIN: We have it on tape. Faizon, what's your perfect holiday?

Mr. LOVE: I'm opposite from La. I want to be working; I want to be driving my Ferrari to the set.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOVE: And I'll see them later.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Here's a good follow-up from Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Scott Stroud? Speaking of which…

Mr. SCOTT STROUD: So a lot of people have company holiday parties coming up. What would you recommend they not do at the company holiday party?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOVE: Don't invite Faizon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. UNION: You know, last week, we sort of followed Danny DeVito and we introduced Limoncello to our family.

Ms. LATIFAH: Limonchello.

Ms. UNION: Leave it alone. It's like truth serum. So whatever you've been holding back all year will come out, you know. Anybody who felt slighted, they'll talk about it. So, I would say leave the Limonchello at home.

MARTIN: Was there some on the back? Did Faizon have a sip before he - joined us?

Ms. UNION: All the time.

Ms. LATIFAH: He's natural Limoncello.

Mr. LOVE: Was that a Limoncello over there?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Kimberley, you had a question. Kimberley Wells? You had a question.

M. KIMBERLEY WELLS: My question is: What impact do you hope this movie beyond its entertainment value?

Ms. LATIFAH: Well, I think for one, I'd love for, hopefully, it to connect with kids who still enjoy the magic of Christmas, with kids who might be going through some things and overcoming them. Well, kids are just being good kids and seeing some good kids on screen who are working hard to be that. I think the sisterhood is important. Gabrielle's character is surrounded by two of her closest friends, and I love to see at times when we go through struggles, that our friends are there to support us.

I hope that this will become one of those films that is, it becomes a staple, something that you like to see every year. So next year, when it's in the video store and if Christmas is coming, people go grab a DVD because they related to it and they enjoyed it and they like to watch it for years to come. And that's, to me, one of the greatest things about Christmas movies is that when you like them, you can always watch that same movie every year. It becomes part of your childhood, you know, like those Claymation movies…

Mr. LOVE: Right.

Ms. LATIFAH: …like the "Abominable Snowman" and Charlie Brown and all the, you know, "A Christmas Story." You're going to shoot you right out, you know what I mean? It's like every year, you want to see those movies. So hopefully, it will become one of those classics.

MARTIN: Thank you all so much for being with us.

Mr. LOVE: Thank you. Happy holidays.

Ms. UNION: Thank you.

Mr. CHESTNUT: Thank you.

Ms. LATIFAH: Thank you for having us.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. LATIFAH: Go see the movie.

Mr. LOVE: Yup yup.

MARTIN: That was the cast of "The Perfect Holiday:" Queen Latifah, Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut and Faizon Love. To see video clips of my conversation, check out our Web site at npr.org/tellmemore. There, you'll also find our blog where you can post comments about this and any other conversations you heard on the show.

And that's our program for today.

I'm Michel Martin. And this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: