Will the adorable couple adopt a baby in time to celebrate Christmas with mom and dad and the neighborhood kids? Sounds like a wonderful vacation TV movie. But that’s disruptive in 2020, so here’s the thing: the couple are Brandon and Jake, and the channel is Hallmark.
“The Christmas House” is one of six new original vacation films released since November with something rare: main characters in same-sex relationships. Others include Hulu’s “Happiest Season,” a coming-out lesbian comedy starring Kristen Stewart; “The Christmas Setup,” a lifelong rom-com debut on Saturday starring real husbands Ben Lewis and Blake Lee; and Dashing in December, a drama that opens on Paramount Network on Sunday about two men falling in love on a ranch.
More under the radar but still noteworthy are two indies: “A New York Christmas Wedding,” a drama on Netflix about a woman who has relationships with a man and woman, and the seedy on-demand “I Hate New Year’s.” “(for rent on large platforms), a New Year’s Eve lesbian romance in Nashville.
LGBTQ characters are nothing new in vacation movies, and six films may not sound like a revolution. But so many leading queer love stories – and same-sex kisses! – is a fundamental change for Christmas cinema, a conventionally heterosexual universe with more stories about puppies than about gay people.
“It’s the beginning of something bigger,” said Clea DuVall, the director and co-writer of Happiest Season. She added, “Networks and streamers are starting to see the value of telling those stories that have always been there but haven’t been given the platform to reach a wider audience.”
According to Hulu, “Happiest Season” is the first rom-com on vacation about a same-sex couple from a major Hollywood studio. Nicole Brown, the president of TriStar Pictures, which sold “Happiest Season” to Hulu in October, described the queering of the Christmas picture as “very organic”. What took so long
“The film always assumed that the safest kind of characters was the right way,” Brown said. “Our studio felt confident that the script and Clea’s vision and ambition were aligned to write a commercial story, and that the quality of their storytelling would involve everyone. If something is great, it’s great.”
This shift is the most seismic for Hallmark, which has become shorthand for “Vacation Movie”. The Christmas House is one of 40 new vacation movies released this year on the Hallmark Channel and its sister network Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, the market leader in vacation movies. The most striking thing about “The Christmas House” is that Brandon and Jake, played by Jonathan Bennett and Brad Harder, are unconditionally accepted as part of the family.
LGBTQ people “work on a lot of these Christmas movies,” said Bennett, who is gay but has acted directly in Hallmark films before. “For the first time we feel part of the holiday table.”
Last December, the Hallmark Channel was exposed to a firestorm when it pulled four television ads featuring kissing brides after a conservative group petitioned the network to “reconsider the broadcasting of commercials with same-sex couples” and not have LGBTQ movies in its Record schedule. Days later, Hallmark apologized for removing the commercials and said it would be working with GLAAD, the media representation organization, “to better represent the LGBTQ community”.
Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming and network advertising at Crown Media Family Networks, the parent company of the Hallmark Channel, said in an interview that her main goal this year is “to create a bigger holiday table for people to watch TV.” to be able to see . “In 2021, Hallmark will be” going forward, not backward, “she said, with more LGBTQ stories for Christmas and later in the year.
“We’re really focused on continuing our commitment to the authenticity of our storytelling for all of our characters and making sure everyone sees themselves represented on the Hallmark Services,” she said. “It is the right thing to do.”
Lifetime, Hallmark’s biggest Christmas competitor, has previously shown original holiday films with LGBTQ characters in supporting roles and storylines. last year it ran for the first time with a same-sex kiss. But “The Christmas Setup” – one of 34 new holiday films on Lifetime this year – is the station’s first such film with an LGBTQ romantic front and center.
Tanya Lopez, executive vice president of films, limited series and original features at Lifetime, said it was “incredibly positive” to have main gay characters in a movie. But the real breakthrough?
“Do you remember when we would lower our voices and say that a movie has a very special vacation twist?” She whispered. “We don’t have a very special kind of Christmas.” Gay Characters “Being treated normally in storytelling feels fresh,” she added, “and that’s the norm I want to create.”
Vacation TV movies generally follow a formula – a young city girl unexpectedly finds love with a small-town craftsman or prince in disguise. Viewers show no sign of fatigue with this basic plot, and it’s a pretty white world. But while racial diversity has become increasingly common, if just a little, in the genre, queer representation has not kept up with even this minimal advancement.
Guaranteed, ambitious wellbeing: This is the name of the Christmas film game, said Joanna Wilson, author of the Christmas entertainment encyclopedia “Tis the Season TV”.
“These movies are fantasies where the real world doesn’t exist,” said Wilson, who also runs the ChristmasTVHistory.com blog. “Families don’t worry about different political views or health care. These are very cautious, conservative stories at first. But changes are coming and that is important. “
Wilson traces the holiday TV bonanza to ABC’s “Carol for Another Christmas,” a twentieth century Christmas story written by Rod Serling and aired in 1964. Original vacation films flourished in the ’70s,’ 80s, and U.S. cable television first marketed them as a niche program in the ’90s, Wilson said. This year there are an estimated 115 new vacation movies on cable and major streaming platforms, including original movies on Fox Nation, Fox News’ streaming service.
If reviews are a clue, turning to LGBTQ storylines isn’t accidental. Hallmark said The Christmas House drew more than two million viewers when it premiered last month. According to Hulu, “Happiest Season” had the largest audience for any original Hulu movie on the opening weekend.
Complaints persist. One Million Moms, the conservative group that recognized Hallmark’s decision to run ads last year, is boycotting the company. Some LGBTQ advocates are unhappy that the husbands in “The Christmas House” are turning their backs on the straightforward romance of the film. It’s also disappointing that trans characters and actors are rare.
But for vacation movie fans like Kevin A. Barry, a college administrator in West Hollywood, California, it’s a joy to know that the days are numbered when only straight people can see smooching under a snow-covered gazebo.
“We always had to fight for love,” said Barry. “These films remind us that love always wins.”