2020 Christmas Rom-Coms Bring Diverse Leads Center Stage 2020 has given us an unprecedented number of new Christmas movies centering on characters who used to be, at most, sidekicks in holiday fare.
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Holiday Rom-Coms Go Beyond Diversity To Center New Christmas Stars

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Holiday Rom-Coms Go Beyond Diversity To Center New Christmas Stars

Holiday Rom-Coms Go Beyond Diversity To Center New Christmas Stars

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Are you in the mood for a little Christmas escapism? Yeah, us too.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A SUGAR AND SPICE HOLIDAY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I want you to try and have some Christmas fun while you're home. Find someone to melt your marshmallow and ring your bell.

MARTIN: Melt your marshmallow. Tis the season for Christmas romantic comedies. There are more and more every year. And as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, the newest in the genre are bringing a more inclusive vision of Christmas.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Last year, Lifetime premiered 19 original Christmas romantic comedies this year, 34.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED FILM)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Merry Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Merry Christmas.

AMY WINTER: It seems like there's quite a few more this year, doesn't it?

ULABY: Amy Winter runs programming for Lifetime.

WINTER: We felt like everybody needed it so badly.

ULABY: Of these 34 new Christmas romantic comedies, she says more than 20 have leads who are Black, Asian, Latinx, disabled or gay...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE CHRISTMAS SETUP")

BEN LEWIS: (As Hugo) Patrick Ryan?

ULABY: ...All baking cookies, putting up mistletoe and falling in love with someone who shows them what's really important in life.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED FILM)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) This is where my heart is.

BRITTANY LUSE: Just put it in my veins. I'll watch them back to back.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED FILM)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) I'm home.

ULABY: Brittany Luse is a cultural critic, a host of podcasts and shows like "The Nod." But this is her season. She loves Christmas romantic comedies, especially the new ones on Lifetime, Netflix and Hallmark featuring Black women.

LUSE: At the center, the very center of the Christmas magic.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED FILM)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) I think you're the whole package, Rebecca.

LUSE: You know, being able to be the person who gets to have somebody rush in at the last minute and make a speech about how they're going to leave New York City, they're going to stay in Phoenix for you (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED FILM)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) I've been in love with you for as long as I can remember.

LUSE: They accept you for who you are. It is nice to see more people sort of getting to have that Christmas magic.

ULABY: Even a hardcore Christmas rom-com fan like Brittany Luse admits there might be something silly about these movies. Still, she says it's significant to see long-marginalized characters at the center of them. Look, she says, at Hulu's biggest holiday hit, "Happiest Season." The main characters are lesbians.

LUSE: Kristen Stewart's character, for example, represents somebody who maybe 10 to 20 years ago was not in the Christmas romantic comedy, five years ago was playing the friend and then in 2020 is the romantic lead of the Christmas romantic comedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.

ULABY: Lifetime filmed its first-ever Christmas rom-com sequel this year with the same mostly Black cast. The original was Lifetime's highest rated film last year - period.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MERRY LIDDLE CHRISTMAS WEDDING")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) Look at all the Black love in this room.

ULABY: "Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding" is on track to be Lifetime's top film for 2020. Rom-com audiences may not care who plays the lead as long as they get their fix. But executive Amy Winter says Lifetime does not just stick diverse actors in its Christmas rom-coms without also hiring writers, directors and decision-makers who share their cultural perspectives. That said, this year there was an exception.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHRISTMAS EVER AFTER")

ALI STROKER: (As Izzi Simmons, singing) Wassail, wassail, all over the town.

ULABY: "Christmas Ever After" stars an actress in a wheelchair. It was written for an able-bodied lead. But Ali Stroker, who had just won a Tony, was beautiful, talented, charismatic and available. So Lifetime thought, of course, we'll hire her for one of our 34 Christmas rom-coms.

WINTER: We didn't make a movie about a woman in a wheelchair at Christmas. We made a Christmas movie that starred a woman in a wheelchair.

ULABY: This wasn't Christmas casting magic, says Winter. This was Christmas common sense. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU")

MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) All I want for Christmas is you.

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