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How Christmas rom-coms have taken over the season

(RNS) — What Robin Ridenour loves about Hallmark Channel Christmas rom-coms is strictly what her partner, Bishop Karen Oliveto, finds so rankling.

They’re all the identical.

“For Robin, it’s consolation meals,” mentioned Oliveto, who’s bishop of the United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction’s Mountain Sky Space. “For me, it’s oatmeal.”

For Ridenour, Hallmark and Hallmark-style vacation motion pictures are extra similar to the cookies she typically bakes as the films stream within the background within the couple’s kitchen in Colorado. 

“They’re predictable. They’re steady. They’re enjoyable,” mentioned Ridenour, who says their predictability means she will simply choose up the plot once more when her consideration has been elsewhere.

And Hallmark hasn’t simply mounted the method for its personal motion pictures; it has rebranded Christmas motion pictures.

“Christmas motion pictures have turn out to be Christmas rom-coms,” mentioned Nancy Wang Yuen, writer of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.”

“There’s now a method for Christmas romantic comedy: issues like mistletoe, snowball fights, falling in love at a Christmas competition.”

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Nancy Wang Yuen. Courtesy picture

Yuen mentioned she thinks the merger of Christmas motion pictures and romantic comedies has ramped up lately — together with the remainder of the “Christmas industrial complex” — as many motion pictures have made a shift from the massive display to streaming networks.

These newer motion pictures are extra “individualistic,” she mentioned, transferring away from the communal really feel of older movies and TV specials similar to “A Christmas Story” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

They continue to be G- or PG-rated, she mentioned, and the primary characters and supporting forged members are nonetheless predominantly white — one thing Yuen is discussing with Jemar Tisby, writer of “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism,” in a just-launched sequence referred to as “I’m Dreaming of a Not White Christmas” on the InterVarsity Press podcast “The Disruptors.”

Hollywood, she mentioned, continues to give attention to what it considers a “center American TV viewers” whilst more than 40% of the nation’s inhabitants has recognized as aside from non-Hispanic white.

“This discount of Christmas to whiteness, to straight households, to conservative values — that’s nonetheless the center of the cultural milieu and the institutionalized thought in Hollywood that that’s what the core viewers is,” mentioned Yuen, a nondenominational Christian who’s a variety, fairness and inclusion marketing consultant.

“And I believe that’s retaining them from with the ability to sort of diversify extra.” 

That’s starting to alter.

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This 12 months, the 31 movies in Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas lineup embrace “A Big Fat Family Christmas,” which highlights Asian American characters, and “The Holiday Sitter,” the channel’s first Christmas romance about a gay couple. (Its 2020 movie “The Christmas Home” included a homosexual couple as supporting characters.)

Actors Jonathan Bennett, from left, George Krissa and Mila Morgan in "The Holiday Sitter" on Hallmark. Photo courtesy of Hallmark

Actors Jonathan Bennett, from left, George Krissa and Mila Morgan in “The Vacation Sitter” on Hallmark. Picture courtesy of Hallmark

“It’s not simply straight {couples}. It’s not simply white {couples},” Lisa Hamilton Daly, government vice chairman of programming at Hallmark Media, told USA Today not too long ago. “Everybody will get their love story.”

Different channels and streaming companies are premiering vacation originals, too, hoping to seize the magic of the Christmas rom-com for his or her audiences.

Amongst them, BET+ has 10; Discovery+, 4; OWN, two. HBO Max has three, together with “A Hollywood Christmas,” which encompasses a multicultural forged led by Jessika Van, portraying a director of — fittingly — a Christmas film.

For the second Christmas season in a row, gospel artist Kirk Franklin is out with a holiday-themed flick, “Kirk Franklin’s The Night Before Christmas” on Lifetime (which is giving Hallmark a run for its cash with 26 new vacation motion pictures). Tucked into the acquainted conflicts and the required love curiosity is a reference to abolitionist Sojourner Fact, a picture of a Black Santa and an angel of colour that tops a Christmas tree.

Poster for “Kirk Franklin’s The Night Before Christmas” on Lifetime. Image courtesy of Lifetime

Poster for “Kirk Franklin’s The Evening Earlier than Christmas” on Lifetime. Picture courtesy of Lifetime

In the meantime, Christian streaming platform Pure Flix and the Nice American Household channel are placing the “Christ” within the Christmas rom-com with a flurry of latest movies. (Hallmark, too, has roots as a non secular community, according to Vox.)

Touting itself as “America’s new house for the vacations,” Nice American Household launched its Nice American Christmas again in October, airing Christmas motion pictures across the clock by way of the top of the 12 months.

Earlier this 12 months, the channel staged one thing of a coup when it lured away from Hallmark the kid star-turned-“Queen of Christmas” Candace Cameron Bure. Bure, an evangelical Christian with her personal collection of branded Bibles, devotionals and inspirational presents, had headlined a lot of Hallmark’s most popular vacation motion pictures.

Her first providing for the Nice American Household channel is “A Christmas … Present,” a couple of busy mother who reconnects along with her household and religion whereas spending the season along with her not too long ago widowed, church-going brother. 

Bure, who additionally has an government position at Nice American Household, defined the transfer to The Wall Avenue Journal, saying she needed to “inform tales which have extra which means and function and depth behind them.”

“I knew that the folks behind Nice American Household had been Christians that love the Lord and needed to advertise religion programming and good household leisure,” she mentioned.

She additionally provoked backlash when a Wall Avenue Journal reporter requested whether or not Nice American Household would, like Hallmark, function same-sex rom-coms. “I believe that Nice American Household will preserve conventional marriage on the core,” she informed the newspaper.

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Actor Karen Abercrombie, left, in "An Angelic Christmas." Photo courtesy of Pure Flix

Actor Karen Abercrombie, left, in “An Angelic Christmas.” Picture courtesy of Pure Flix

Pure Flix began streaming its vacation content material in mid-November. Every week addresses a special theme — “Have fun Household,” “Have fun Romance,” “Have fun the Nativity,” and so on. — with movies and sequence every week similar to “The Thursday Evening Membership,” that includes disco diva Gloria Gaynor, and “The Means,” produced by Kathie Lee Gifford.

Pure Flix CEO Michael Scott informed Faith Information Service that “faith-forward” content material is vital to the corporate’s audiences, and one thing they’ll’t discover in all places. That’s as a result of for Christians, he mentioned, “the explanation for the season in the end is Jesus.”

Scott mentioned Pure Flix’s Christmas slate will embrace rom-coms as properly — watching two characters discover love is inspirational, he famous, particularly when the vacations is usually a lonely time for therefore many individuals.

Actor Robert Amaya, who performs the title position within the new Pure Flix film “An Unlikely Angel,” agreed. “In the long run, we need to be liked,” he mentioned.

Actor Robert Amaya in the new Pure Flix movie “An Unlikely Angel." Photo by SDS Photography, courtesy of Pure Flix

Actor Robert Amaya within the new Pure Flix film “An Unlikely Angel.” Picture by SDS Images, courtesy of Pure Flix

Amaya mentioned he’s excited to see faith-based movies exploring the Christmas rom-com style. “It’s a mirrored image of actuality. I believe that God will be honored in these moments,” he mentioned.

He wouldn’t say Pure Flix is coming for Hallmark, although.

“We’re simply coming to carry reality in that very same setting,” he mentioned.

And films are such an enormous a part of vacation traditions for therefore many individuals, Amaya mentioned. His personal favorites embrace “Miracle on 34th Avenue,” fashionable additions like “The Santa Clause” sequence and basic Claymation Christmas specials like “Rudolph the Pink-Nosed Reindeer.”

Bishop Karen Oliveto, left, and spouse Robin Ridenour. Photo courtesy of Oliveto

Bishop Karen Oliveto, left, and partner Robin Ridenour. Picture courtesy of Oliveto

Ridenour and Oliveto will watch “Elf,” “The Household Stone” and “Happiest Season” this vacation season.

And possibly just a few Hallmark Christmas motion pictures.

Ridenour mentioned she had turned off the rom-coms for some time when the dearth of variety of any variety grew to become evident (although she identified they’ve at all times had robust ladies as their principal characters, “consider it or not”). She needed to take a stand: “No extra Hallmark till you alter.”

“They usually did, and now you’re again,” Oliveto mentioned.

The couple hadn’t began watching vacation motion pictures but after they spoke to RNS earlier than Thanksgiving, however Oliveto already was listening to Christmas music. And, she mentioned, she’d seen some folks already had began to brighten.

Individuals are in want of pleasure and luxury after a lot trauma, she mentioned.

“And I believe that’s one of many causes that Hallmark is so robust,” Ridenour added. “It’s as a result of these motion pictures provide stability and predictability in unstable and unpredictable occasions.”

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