It was supposed to be the gayest holiday season ever for film & television. This year, an unprecedented number of seasonal films with LGBTQ lead characters aired on national networks and streaming platforms—six (not bad for a genre that often barely gives us representation annually). As a Black queer millennial, I was enthusiastic to finally be able to snuggle with my fiancé as we intended to finally see ourselves on screen.
That didn’t happen. Instead, I was taken back to yesteryear where Black LGBTQ faces are rarely seen and barely heard. Out of the six films, there was only one Black lead character. Most of the films centered on white characters with mostly white co-stars in mostly white environments.
When characters of color were featured, they were either stereotyped or lazily written. There were no Black gay men in love, Latinx characters embraced, or transgender people centered. At a time when LGBTQ activism is calling for more nuance and intersectionality in media representation, this just felt like a missed opportunity across the board.
This pales in comparison to some of the more diverse and intriguing LGBTQ appearances we’ve seen in previous holiday films.
I appreciated the interracial couple who were planning to adopt in the hit film The Family Stone (2005) which included one of them being deaf—a notable trait that further showed how intentional the screenplay was in giving these characters depth. Classic queer cult holiday films such as Make the Yuletide Gay (2009) and Some of My Best Friends Are… (1971), Home for the Holidays (1995), and Female Trouble (1974), showcased more LGBTQ spectrum diversity and progressive views that were ahead of their time.
Even Black holiday films such as Holiday Heart (2000) and A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000) spoke to the unique experiences of Black queer people during this time of year. Even the inclusion of a closeted Black gay officer (played by Anthony Mackie) in Love the Coopers (2015) had more nuance and character development than many of the holiday films out right now.
So I when I watched this year’s line-up—The Christmas House on Hallmark, Happiest Season on Hulu, The Christmas Setup on Lifetime, Dashing in December on Paramount Network, A New York Christmas Wedding on Netflix, and I Hate New Year’s on major rental platforms—I already had a litmus test to base them off of.
The way to divide these films up is based on two sectors: Oh-so-white holiday cheer, and seasonal-diversity-gone-wrong. Most of these films aren’t terrible (but when they are, they are dumpster-fire), just lacking melanin, LGBTQ spectrum inclusion, and modern cultural competency.
Films like The Christmas House, Dashing in December, and The Christmas Setup pretty much fall under the oh-so-white holiday cheer category. White cis-gender gay men are front and center in these films and the narratives are pretty much the same. White gay man comes home (somewhere not metropolitan) for the holidays, meets charming white gay man who sweeps him off his feet, some corny dilemma happens (a job offer, family plans get disrupted), and somehow they work it out and love each other.
It’s hard to ignore how there’s barely any people of color featured and it’s basically the typical straight white holiday films with gay men replacing the leads. Of course there’s the trope of the overloving mom who’s a super queer ally (Fran Drescher nails it in The Christmas Setup and Andie MacDowell sparkles in Dashing in December). But these ultra-super-safe gay films are underwhelming and feel dated in an era where Hollywood and Pose currently exist.
So that leaves Happiest Season, I Hate New Year’s, and A New York Christmas Wedding in the seasonal-diversity-gone-wrong category. Happiest Season, which is currently being billed as the first holiday rom-com about a same-gender couple from a major Hollywood studio, stars queer A-lister Kristen Stewart in one of the lesbian roles.
The film, although a great departure from the traditional male-centric gay holiday line-up, is super-white and falls within the trope of focusing the storyline on a lover struggling to come out. It was hard to watch what appeared to be affluent, white, and liberal adults dragging out a tired narrative of fearing rejection in 2020 when so many queer youth of color are struggling with this in real time.
The film was decent (Emmy-award winning gay actor Dan Levy was a screen-stealer) but still lacked the kind of depth to move it out of the closet of predictability. I felt the same way with I Hate New Year’s, another lesbian rom-com centering two lead actresses of color (Dia Frampton and Ashley Argota) that was produced by LGBTQ production company Tello.
This film was perhaps the best out of all of them as it featured diverse characters, unapologetic queer themes throughout, and felt more authentic as it told the story of two friends on a quest to reconnect with an ex only to find out they truly love each other instead.
My only problem with the film, outside the constant erasure of Black queer characters, is that it spent more time fixated on the chase than the intimacy. I felt most of these films overall lacked any true romance, and at times felt more tolerant—than embracing—of the queer love on screen.
For example, most of the kissing scenes in both Happiest Season and I Hate New Year’s felt secretive and private, somewhere where the straights couldn’t find them. And while that fits part of the storyline, therein lies the limitations for these characters to just exist more freely.
Perhaps that’s why I hated what I feel is perhaps the worst holiday film, queer or straight, of all time: A New York Christmas Wedding, directed by Black gay filmmaker/actor Otoja Abit. Come for the diversity, stay for how god-awful and instantly campy it becomes.
Set in New York City, the film centers a Black woman named Jennifer Ortiz, played by Nia Fairweather, who gets taken back to yesteryear by a caricature of a gay white “angel” named Azrael who can’t stop stereotypically saying “gurllllll” every five seconds.
The film presents the dilemma of a straight woman who is about to get married to a man and realizes that she lost the female love of her life (who she can’t ever get back with) through a wild rollercoaster of traumatic flashbacks (stillbirths, suicide, homophobia in the Catholic church, to name a few). It’s cringy and exploitative, a misguided film that relies on stereotypes of performative queerness and how faith intersects with sexuality. I can’t even begin to recall how many times I yelled at the screen “how in the fuck did Netflix greenlight this?” throughout the film.
Again, if you want to uncomfortably laugh and be in total shock of how ridiculous a holiday queer film could get, watch this now.
While we’ve come a long way in the variety of LGBTQ films offered during this time, quantity doesn’t mean quality. Studios need to think in more intersectional and progressive terms about how they center queer leads in future holiday content. We are more than just folks coming home to families we have to either hide our identities from or find a lover at.
How about we exist in our own worlds and people meet us there? I would love to see a Black queer couple bring their friends and family over for Christmas dinner (a Kwanzaa gathering would be just as preferred) or a transgender love story on New Year’s Eve. Either way, what we currently have in the queer holiday canon are a bunch of films that could have been, should have been for “us”—but still remain only for the small few.