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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Black Nativity

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Forest Whitaker and Jacob Latimore star in a scene from the movie "Black Nativity."
If you're tempted to bewail the absence of Christ from Christmas these days, you'll find the Lord right where he belongs -- front and center, receiving praise and worship -- in the rousing musical drama "Black Nativity" (Fox Searchlight).

In fact, redemption-centered Christian faith pervades the picture to a degree rarely seen in a mainstream movie.

That's just as well, since the urban setting of this adaptation—and updating—of poet Langston Hughes' 1961 song-play surrounds its characters with a host of ills from which to be saved. A case in point: the poverty besetting Baltimore single mother Naima Cobb (Jennifer Hudson).

Facing eviction from the home she shares with her good-hearted but naive son, Langston (Jacob Latimore)—named for the author, of course—Naima sends Langston to New York to live with her estranged parents: stern Harlem minister Cornell (Forest Whitaker) and his more sympathetic wife, Aretha (Angela Bassett). Naima hopes the arrangement will only be temporary.

Miserable in his new surroundings, Langston pines for his mom and chafes under the exacting standards of respectability enforced by his grandfather. He's also plagued by misadventures, one of which lands him in jail for a time.

Tempted to solve Naima's financial woes by stealing enough loot to get her back on her feet, misguided Langston seems headed for the life of a petty criminal. But the annual holiday pageant Cornell's church puts on—during which Langston has a vision of the first Christmas—helps him to see the light.

So too does the unexpected intervention of a concerned acquaintance (Tyrese Gibson), a man Langston first encountered during his brief incarceration.

Soulful musical performances, unabashed piety and resoundingly positive values go a long way to smoothing over the rough patches in screenwriter and director Kasi Lemmons' screen parable. Though not a movie for small children, this heartfelt salute to forgiveness, family unity and the power of religious belief will likely delight most others.

The film contains mature themes and the occasional threat of violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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