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‘Black Nativity’ director talks with AmNews

Lapacazo Sandoval | 11/28/2013, 6 a.m.
“Black Nativity” writer-director Kasi Lemmons at the “Black Nativity” red–carpet event at the Apollo Theater (Paul M. Zapata III photo)

There are many reasons to embrace the feel-good holiday film “Black Nativity,” which is a contemporary adaptation of poet Langston Hughes’ play by the same name. The music is one element that’s going to keep audiences coming back for more this holiday season.

Fox Searchlight Pictures made a wise choice when they entrusted director-screenwriter Kasi Lemmons with delivering the goods. Through the strength of the material and her creative reputation, Lemmons assembled an array of artisans that would make any film producer pleased as punch.

The roster is a who’s who of winners, including Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett, Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, Grammy Award nominee Tyrese Gibson, Grammy Award nominee Nasir Jones and Grammy Award winner Mary J. Blige. In the title role as young Langston is rising R&B star Jacob Latimore, who, at last count, had 400,000 Twitter followers and counting.

The original musical score is by Raphael Saadiq (“Precious”), who also serves as the executive producer, and Laura Karpman.

Here’s what Lemmons had to say about the magic of moviemaking, the blessings in her life and the power of good, soul-shaking music.

AmNews: Musicals are difficult. A director gets it right or they don’t. What inspired you to get it right?

I’ve wanted to do a musical for a long time, and I’ve always loved working with lyrics, music and story. Plus, it’s my love letter to Harlem, a place that I, like Langston Hughes, love deeply.

What element made you feel confident in retelling Langston’s classic? You had big, big shoes to fill, and you did fill them!

The key was bringing aboard Executive Music Director Raphael Saadiq. He’s one of today’s most prolific soul artists. He’s released a number of critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated solo albums. Plus, he’s a celebrated producer and collaborator [who has worked] with D’Angelo; John Legend; Joss Stone; the Roots; A Tribe Called Quest; Stevie Wonder; the Bee Gees; the Isley Brothers; Mary J. Blige; TLC; Snoop Dogg; Earth, Wind and Fire, to name a few.

The soundtrack is a perfect stocking-stuffer! The sound is classic-contemporary. Does that make sense? Listening, I went way back, and then I was smack in the middle of my “now.”

(Laughing) Yes. I wanted a timeless quality. And to me, Raphael brings an element to music that is simultaneously very contemporary and timeless.

The music fits the story, which is really about togetherness, about bringing families together. Sometimes families have trials and tribulations, but then sometimes you can come together, especially through songs and music.

Making “Black Nativity,” well, it was like a poem to me, a Langston Hughes poem.

“Black Nativity” opens Nov. 27. The soundtrack is on shelves now.