Hard as it is to believe, another year is winding its way to a close – time to break out the holiday decorations, don the ugly sweater, and check that gift list twice. In the midst of the whirlwind of activity, though, don’t forget to grab your hot beverage of choice and make time to unwind with some holiday TV. The holidays are a special time on television, as movies and shows spreads the cheer and sets the scene for our own festivities. And this year, the season is even more special as networks have worked to expand the number of offerings featuring both actors of color and non-Christian holidays – a diversity of representation that is truly something to celebrate.
In that spirit, we’ve put together a list of some of the best – and most diverse – programming that you shouldn’t miss. So break out the egg nog and follow us for a tour of what’s happening this season at some of our favorite channels.
The BET Network’s streaming service is quadrupling its holiday production this season, with eight original movies to be rolled out over two months. The run will kick off with A Rich Christmas, starring Tayler Abron as the aptly-named Valerie Rich, a spoiled socialite who learns a valuable lesson after her real-estate businessman father (played by Bill Bellamy) attempts to close a homeless family shelter. Other titles include Soul Santa, The Jenkins Family Christmas, and Christmas Déjà vu, which will also appear on BET and BET Her. In addition to well-known stars, Executive Vice President Devin Griffin notes that “we equally take great pride in bringing new names and faces to the space, because that’s what BET has been doing for 40 years.”
With its focus on family and community, Hallmark has always been a source of holiday content and 2021 is no exception, with a whopping 40 movies premiering almost daily between now and the big days. In ‘Tis the Season to Be Merry, the snows of Vermont provide the perfect backdrop for a surprising relationship between Merry (Rachael Leigh Cook) and aid worker Chris (Travis Van Winkle). In An Unexpected Christmas, a writer (Tyler Hynes) and his ex-girlfriend (Bethany Joy Lenz) pose again as a couple without knowing what the holiday has in store. Hallmark has also provided important space for other religious holidays celebrated in the same season: in Eight Gifts of Hanukkah, an optometrist (Inbar Lavi) seeks out the admirer who has sent her a gift every night for eight nights.
Lifetime will be offering no less than 35 original movies this season, with a lineup of stars including “The Queen of Country” Reba McEntire, music legend Smokey Robinson, and Vanessa Williams of Soul Food fame.
In this year’s lineup, the focus is very much on diversity. In fact, having a holiday film featuring a primarily Black case was a key to attracting Smokey Robinson to appear in Lifetime’s Miracle in Motor City. “They sent me the script. And it’s a beautiful, warm, wonderful, warm story…. about Black people and about how they celebrate Christmas and what they do and all that,” says Robinson. “So that got me right there.”
According to Monique Coleman, star of a Christmas Dance Reunion, this year’s diversity focus also feels more nuanced and natural. “I feel like there’s a lot more room,” says Coleman. “It’s not just a question of racial diversity, but also diversity within a race. I think oftentimes, I have been cast in roles that someone could perceive as a token role. Like, ‘oh, here, we’re fulfilling the diversity quota.’” Her co-star, Corbin Bleu, agrees. “What’s so beautiful is to see these lead actors, Black actors, and that has nothing to do with the driving force of the storyline,” he says. “The storyline is a romance story. It has nothing to do with the fact that we’re Black. And yet, you get to see all of this diversity and all of this representation in there.”
GAC (Great American Channel)
Finally, newcomer GAC (Great American Channel) is not about to be left behind, with original holiday features premiering every Saturday through Christmas. This means a lot of interesting onscreen couplings! Some not-to-miss romances include royalty paired with commoner in Jingle Bell Princess, featuring Merritt Patterson and former Hallmark actor Trevor Donovan; tour-company owner paired with TV anchor in A Kindhearted Christmas, featuring Jennie Garth and Hallmark alumnus Cameron Mathison; and real-estate agent paired with client in Christmas Time is Here, featuring Dewshane Williams and Rukiya Moore, who has also previously appeared in a Hallmark series. Make sure to keep a box of Kleenex next to the remote control!
As Monique Coleman and Corbin Bleu express so well, diversity is not a question of simply filling diversity quotas but of recognizing – and providing space for – a wide range of roles, experiences, and talents. And there is no better time to reflect on this than the holiday season, which brings all types of people and families together to celebrate in their own meaningful ways.
To find out more about our work on promoting representation and diversity in television, visit our diversity on TV campaign.