Longtime viewers of Christmas television movies already know that Hallmark's films have notoriously lacked diversity. Finally, that problem has been brought to the forefront in a new Hollywood Reporter article.
Bill Abbott, CEO of Crown Media Family Networks (which serves as the parent company for Hallmark), told Hollywood Reporter that only four Black leads can be seen across Hallmark's 24 original holiday films. However, as he said on THR's TV podcast, TV's Top 5, he believes that the network is focused on broadening their scope to different audiences.
"I think that generalization isn't fair either, that we just have Christmas [movies] with white leads," he said. "In terms of broadening out the demographic, it's something we're always thinking about, always considering and we'll continue to make the movies where the best scripts are delivered to us and what we think have the most potential."
At the same, though, Hallmark has neglected to include their other holiday films, such as Hanukkah-focused films Holiday Date and Double Holiday, in their holiday roster because of the "Countdown to Christmas" brand.
"We are very proud of those movies and we think those movies really reflect an across-the-board approach to celebrating the holiday season," said Abbott. "...It's hard if we start to slice up the pie, so to speak, and make movies based on specific holidays. So, if we were to look at Kwanzaa, for example, or other religions and how they celebrate the holidays, it's a little bit more difficult because we don't look at Christmas from a religious point of view. It's more a seasonal celebration." He also added that bringing in religion makes it "a little bit tougher to necessarily tell that story in a way that doesn't involve religion and we always want to stay clear of religion or controversy."
While Hanukkah is a religious holiday, Kwanzaa isn't; it's based on a set of principles revolving around family and community. So, in that sense, Abbott's argument fails. It also fails in the sense that by sectioning off other holiday movies from Christmas, it's creating a hierarchy of what is deemed acceptable in terms of holiday celebration. Also, it's not as if Black people don't celebrate Christmas. So why not just make Hallmark more inclusive?
Abbott said that he is "open" to doing all types of movies, including those with gay leads, another area of diversity where Hallmark is lacking.
"We are always encouraging people to bring us stories across the board. And it's not always that simple a process where you put the word out and you get back three great scripts and three great stories," he said. "We put the word out that we're doing an original series and we get 50 bad stories. So it's not as easy as I think you're making it sound and it's certainly something that we do discuss consistently with our team and with our talent and with the agencies."
Abbott's comments can be easily read as excuse-making seeing how Lifetime, a similar network, has shown Christmas films with diverse casts, including Kim Fields' upcoming holiday TV movie, You Light Up My Christmas. There's always next year for Hallmark to do better regarding more diversity in its holiday celebrations.
From Harlem to Hollywood, get the Black entertainment news you need in your inbox daily.