Black Nativity

  • Review Date: November 27, 2013
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Musical
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Christmas musical is feel-good story of faith, forgiveness.
  • Review Date: November 27, 2013
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Musical
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

Age(i)

2
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5
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8
9
10
11
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13
14
15
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

There are plenty of positive messages about the importance of faith, family, and forgiveness. The story focuses on the possibility of redemption and the need for unconditional love between parents and children. There's also a strong Christian message about the birth of Jesus and the importance of being able to repent and forgive. Langston Hughes' poetry, which is sung/recited throughout the movie, also offers thought-provoking messages about empowerment, overcoming life's difficulties, and the sadness of delaying dreams.

Positive role models

Reverend Cobbs proves that even men of God make mistakes and require forgiveness. Langston learns the truth of his birth, the story behind his mother's separation from her parents, and the necessity of reconnecting with your roots. Even though he makes mistakes -- including stealing from his grandfather -- he ultimately brings his family together. Naima wants to keep her son safe, and Mrs. Cobbs wants to get to know her grandson for the first time.

Violence

A minor takes a gun he's about to (illegally) buy and tries to hold up a pawn shop. A police officer holds a gun up to the underage suspect but lets the young guy go with just a warning. A teenager is arrested when he's caught holding a man's wallet (that he was actually trying to return). He stays in jail and nearly gets into a fight with a man.

Sex

A young couple embraces and holds hands. Adults make references to a teen pregnancy.

Language

Language/insults includes "damn," "hell," "punk," "Lunch Money," "no good," etc.

Consumerism

Peter Pan bus lines; a Cadillac; Samsung, Starbucks, Hyundai, and various storefronts along 125th Street in Harlem.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the musical Black Nativity is a modernization of Langston Hughes' 1961 play of the same name with a gospel twist. There's nothing particularly alarming for younger kids, but there are a couple of scenes when a young man has skirmishes with the law (he's mistakenly arrested for pickpocketing when he was just trying to return the wallet) and later tries to rob a pawnshop at gunpoint. Hughes' poetry is recited (or sung) throughout the movie, as are traditional gospel songs. The story of Jesus' birth becomes the driving force for an estranged family's reunion in this holiday musical.

Parents say

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Kids say

What's the story?

Director Kasi Lemmons adapts poet Langston Hughes' Christmas play BLACK NATIVITY into a modern musical set in Hughes' beloved neighborhood of Harlem in New York City. In this retelling, a single mother (Jennifer Hudson) faces eviction from her Baltimore home right before Christmas, so she sends her 15-year-old son Langston (Jacob Latimore) on a bus to Manhattan stay with her estranged parents, Reverend Cornell Cobbs (Forest Whitaker) and his wife, Aretha (Angela Bassett). Before he meets his grandparents, Langston is robbed, mistaken for a thief, and arrested. When he finally gets to know his grandparents, he's confused and curious about their lack of a contact. Langston sets out to help his mom find the money to save their house, only to discover through his grandfather's church Christmas pageant that it's family and faith he needs more than anything else.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Families that celebrate Christmas and appreciate gospel music are in for a feel-good treat in Black Nativity. Featuring a mix of gospel and Christmas music, the film is a touching modernization of the nativity tale within a prodigal-child framing story. Hudson's voice is far superior to everyone else's in the movie -- with the exception of fellow professional R&B singer Mary J. Blige as a Christmas pageant angel and Hudson's impressive on-screen son Latimore. Whitaker's voice isn't on the same level, but he makes up for it with his performances as a well-known Harlem preacher who can't figure out how to reconcile with his uncommunicative daughter.

Parents who attend the movie with their children should take full advantage of the many references to Hughes' poems like "Dream Deferred" and traditional spirituals like "Motherless Child." In addition to being a Christmas story, the movie provides a context for the historical importance of Harlem to African Americans as well as references to the civil rights movement. This is not a perfect movie: parts are a bit too convenient to believe and others are overly sentimental, but those flaws can be forgiven considering it's a holiday film. The Christmas musical will appeal foremost to gospel lovers and practicing Christians, but anyone who sees it should appreciate the vocals and the family-first message.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's connection to famous American poet Langston Hughes. What does the movie teach about Hughes' poems and their setting in Harlem? What do his poems have to do with the nativity story?

  • What did you think of this retelling of the nativity story in a contemporary setting? Did you appreciate the way the gospel music was integrated into the story?

  • Do you prefer religious holiday movies or secular ones? Discuss why or why not your family celebrates the religious aspects of Christmas.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 27, 2013
DVD release date:April 15, 2014
Cast:Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson
Director:Kasi Lemmons
Studio:Fox Searchlight
Genre:Musical
Topics:Holidays, Music and sing-along
Run time:93 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:thematic material, language and a menacing situation

This review of Black Nativity was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

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  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 10 years old January 19, 2014
AGE
8
QUALITY
 

Black Nativity. SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The violence is not even violence. to me it's the intensity. It's not very intense but the tension kind of lifts up when Langston (unknowingly) points a gun at his father. Jacob Latimore and Forrest Whitaker are good in this movie. Should have been PG-13 due to thematic elements. Kids can handle it it just seems like it would be a little to much and confusing for kids under 8 or 7.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence

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