Christmas is the time of year where family gather together to remember the past, celebrate cherished memories and reminisce upon kin long since gone, but not forgotten.
Black people, though more than 70 percent are born out of wedlock, love Christmas. As we learned in our article on gay marriage, Black people are deeply religious and find the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ one of the most important days in the year.
One of the best ways to foster conversation around the Christmas tree among family is to bring up the last cultural unifier in America: movies. Neither regionalism nor rural area can escape the all-mighty reach of Hollywood and the power of cinema to shape national attitudes and mores is unquestioned.
Christmas makes a perfect backdrop for Hollywood to create magic that the entire family can enjoy, year end and year out. Family films that depict the glories of Christmas in contemporary settings and of Christmas’ long, long ago have the edifying power of binding the generations present in ways that no amount of egg nog can.
Already, we have discussed one film – Holiday Inn – that Black people find despicable, due to one of the most offensive Black-face scenes in Hollywood history. That particular film introduced the world to the glorious song, “White Christmas”, and stars the incomparable Bing Crosby.
However, three Christmas films are constantly found viewed by families around the holiday, as they represent the Holy Triumvirate of Christmas films. And yet, these films – cherished by all who view them – leave Black people in a disquieting sense of alienation from the United States, for they were all made in Pre-Obama America and all have the common denominator of having absolutely no Black people of significance in them.
In fact, when watching these films, one gets the sense that the song White Christmas is redundant and the holiday is not only blanketed in a climate of continuous snow, but a blizzard of whiteness.
Those films that comprise the Holy Triumvirate are “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Story” and “Christmas Vacation”, and all have the similarity of being about white people (and families) celebrating Christmas in unique ways and all in different decades (1940, 1950 and the 1980s respectively) that has the calming effect of reassuring white America that a strong homogeneous nation once existed and its genesis was The Greatest Generation.
Black people view these films with a brooding sense of incredulity, for these films callously disregard Black people and their many contributions to American life.
Take “It’s a Wonderful Life” for example. The lone Black character in the film is a maid/cook of the Bailey’s, the films protagonists and the virtuous saviors of Bedford Falls. How can a family that helps the little people of Bedford Falls have the audacity to have a Black person – a virtual slave – and still be well liked by the town? What’s the film all about?:
The film takes place in the fictional town of Bedford Falls shortly after World War II and stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve gains the attention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) who is sent to help him in his hour of need. Much of the film is told through flashbacks spanning George's entire life and narrated by Franklin and Joseph, unseen Angels who are preparing Clarence for his mission to save George.
Through these flashbacks we see all the people whose lives have been touched by George and the difference he has made to the community in which he lives.”
George Bailey is a fine example of the All-American white guy and to see a movie that is watched yearly by millions of people portray a pale-face in such a glowing manner is too much for Black people to take.
Watching the film is like looking at a portrait or photograph of a long-dead family member you never knew, for the movie shows a United States that no longer exists and yet, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has the eerie ability to pull you into this picturesque town and never let you go. Black people sense this as well, and realize they don’t quite belong in Bedford Falls.
In the second Christmas classic, “A Christmas Story”, the city of Cleveland plays host to the tale of boy in search of the ultimate toy: a Red-Ryder BB Gun and the anticipation of Christmas’ arrival:
“The film is set in the fictional city of Hohman (based on real-life city of Hammond, Indiana). 9-year-old Ralphie Parker wants only one thing for Christmas: "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time." Between run-ins with his younger brother Randy and having to handle school bully Scut Farkus, and his sidekick Grover Dill, Ralphie does not know how he will ever survive long enough to get the BB gun for Christmas.
The plot revolves around Ralphie's overcoming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to his owning the precious Red Ryder BB gun: the fear that he will shoot his eye out. In each of the film's three acts, Ralphie makes his case to another individual; each time he is met by the same retort. When Ralphie asks his mother for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, she says, "No, you'll shoot your eye out." Next, when Ralphie writes a theme about wanting the BB gun for Miss Shields, his teacher at Warren G. Harding Elementary School, Ralphie gets a C+, and Miss Shields writes "P.S. You'll shoot your eye out" on it. Finally, Ralphie asks an obnoxious department store Santa Claus for a Red Ryder BB gun, and Santa responds, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid. Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho!", before pushing Ralphie down a long slide with his boot.”
In this film, unlike “It’s a Wonderful Life”, nary a Black person has a speaking part. There is a Black child in Ralphie’s class, but he fails to garner a speaking credit and instead looks on in horror at Flick’s taking up the dreaded Triple-Dog dare and getting his tongue stuck to a flag pole.
“A Christmas Story” is more bleached than even “It’s a Wonderful Life” and worse, TBS plays the film for 24-hours straight on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which has the undeniably crippling effect of harming young Black people’s self-esteem, for they are but an afterthought in a film that showcases the overwhelming whiteness of American history.
“Christmas Vacation” is a film produced by Black people’s least favorite director, John Hughes, and paints a rather boring picture of Mein Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago for its unbearable and overpowering whiteness. Thankfully, a Black person is given a semi-power of authority, this time in the guise of a police chief at the end of film. Otherwise though, Black people are conspicuously absent from this hilarious Yule-tide comedy, that stars Chevy Chase in all his campy glory:
“The movie begins with Clark taking his family on the search for a perfect Christmas tree. After aggravating nearby motorists, getting stuck under a big rig, and walking in the woods for a long time, Clark finally finds said tree. (He digs the tree out himself because he forgot the saw.) Clark breaks several windows and gets covered in tree sap setting it up, as it barely fits in the yard, let alone the living room.
While shopping for gifts at a downtown Chicago department store, Clark meets a saleswoman named Mary (Nicolette Scorsese). He makes a series of Freudian slips to her on their first encounter, and later fantasizes about her skinny-dipping in his future pool (interrupted by his cousin in law's daughter).
Clark has been working on a project at his firm which he expects will bring in a good Christmas bonus. Clark plans to use the bonus to put in a swimming pool, which he has already laid down a $7,500 deposit on.
As Christmas approaches, the many members of Clark's extended family begin arriving to stay with him. Clark's and Ellen's parents are the first to arrive. This drives him to go set up the lighting on the house with his son Rusty. He covers nearly every inch of the home's exterior and yard with lights (according to Clark himself, a grand total of 25,000 Christmas lights). Clark becomes very frustrated after many attempts to get the lights working. Unknown to him, the electricity wasn't on to begin with. When Ellen heads to the back store room to get something, she clicks a light switch, lighting the house (and causing the power plant to switch to nuclear generators for backup power), and blinding their unfriendly yuppie neighbors. After the lights are up and running, Ellen's cousin-in-law and cousin, Eddie and Catherine, along with their children show up to stay with him for a month, with their dilapidated, rusty RV parked in the driveway the whole time.”
All three films are constantly shown on television around Christmas and all three films reinforce an ugly historical fact to Black people in the United States: like in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Black people get to see a world in which they have no real power in the country and in some cases, how the country operated if they weren't even apart of it or born.
When young Black people watch these films, they are forced to ponder this unfortunate reality, for the Holy Triumvirate of Christmas movies chronicle celluloid worlds where Black people don’t exist in any significant roles.
Black people aren't even mentioned at all in these films, as the white people in all three movies seem blissfully ignorant of their even existence.
Stuff Black People Don't Like includes the Holy Triumvirate of Christmas movies, for all three films are awash in whiteness and lack any color or divine Black presence. These films are part of the imperialistic and racist white America of old, and every Christmas, Black people are forced to remember that nation and white people are once again reminded of the nation that is lost to them forever, yet immortalized in three grand old films.
The films take place a total of 90 years apart and showcase white people in the 20th century and yet, like an old family portrait of family members never met, these films have the unnerving power of acting as a fine eulogy for white America.