MAKE HALLMARK HOLIDAY MOVIES GREAT AGAIN
I recently spent a weekend visiting family and during a 36-hour period we watched 5 Hallmark Holidays movies. I haven’t had basic cable in eons and I’ve never been much of a big romantic comedy gal in the first place, so this binge was wild. I know people love these movies--enough to support round-the-clock showings from late October into the new calendar year. This season alone, Hallmark is releasing 37 new original movies and I can tell you the plot of every single one right now:
A plucky/overworked/lovesick gal from the big city finds herself at the crossroads of her rising career/relationship with a douchey fiance who works in business/banking/suit-wearing. A work trip/inheritance beckons her back to her hometown, someplace named something like Maple Falls/Grover’s Hollow/Reindeer Crossing, an idyllic little hamlet in flyover country where there’s definitely a gazebo/ice skating pond/holiday-themed craft fair going on that single-handedly and inexplicably supports the entire local economy. Everyone who lives there is very pleasant/folksy/definitely white. Over the course of 2 hours including commercials, the female lead has a meet-cute with her high school sweetheart/a misunderstood townie/a prince in disguise/maybe a ghost. Though she has an entire life back in the city, she finds herself falling for this new man, goaded along by a mysterious, white-bearded, elderly stranger named “Chris.” It turns out that her fiance back in the city is a serial cheater/workaholic/evil CEO whose father’s company threatens to shut down the local craft fair, because that happens. But right in the nick of time, her handsome new beau saves the town/Christmas, and she decides to abandon her career and stay in Bumble with him forever, YAY GOD BLESS US EVERY ONE.
These movies are highly predictable and as blandly comforting as a beige weighted blanket, and require little to no attention span to follow and enjoy. And listen, I get it. The holidays are stressful, filled with money worries, family drama, and travel nightmares. We want to be soothed, and if your method of finding peace is watching Lacey Chabert wear a cashmere sweater for two hours, who am I to judge? As someone who once watched 8 Fast & Furious movies in one day, I am a firm believer in Letting People Enjoy Their Thing. Have at that basic cable marathon! But I do think it’s important to call out the way that these films repeatedly glorify small town life and traditional gender roles. So I’d like to humbly offer a few suggestions that could make Hallmark Holiday movies better and more inclusive for us all.
Let’s start with the obvious--how ‘bout some racial diversity? Out of all of the Hallmark movies I’ve absorbed over the years by cultural osmosis, I’ve never seen a single one with a person of color in a lead role. I know that a handful of examples in the vast Hallmark oeuvre exist, and they appear to be making more of an effort in their most recent batch of releases (Holly Robinson Peete, Rick Fox, and Christina Milian have films dropping this year), but still, these movies are overwhelmingly, BLINDINGLY white. Roughly 95% of all supporting roles and extras are played by white actors, according to the very scientific stats-gathering I did with my eyeballs. No wonder no one has any qualms about moving back home to Grover’s Corners, because none of them have to worry about racism (or homophobia, but I’ll get to that soon). Besides mixing up the casting to reflect the real world, I also have a personal request: I would love to see an interracial romance. Listen, as a biracial American, it’s crazy to me that in 2018 the Year of Our Lord and Meghan Markle, we haven’t seen an interracial couple in a damn Hallmark movie. If I saw a television Christmas spread that included lumpia and pancit next to the turkey and mashed potatoes, I’d actually start buying Hallmark cards even though I think spending $5 on them is dumb.
Also, why do all the couples have to be hetero? Middle America has shown they are ready to accept the cast of Will & Grace into their living rooms not just once, but twice! Hallmark, you have major catching up to do. Not to mention you are missing out on a wealth of refreshing new plots--just imagine how much drama you can milk out of a lesbian couple getting into adorable tiffs over the glue gun in their wreath-making studio. Expand beyond traditional monogamous relationship norms, and think about how you’d get three times the wacky hijinks with a throuple arguing about whose turn it is to hang the outdoor lights. We straight marrieds have been hogging all the tropes and formulaic plotlines for way too long, and it’s time we start sharing.
About those gender roles--during our weekend of bingeing, my husband observed incredulously “These movies are all about women leaving their jobs for a man.” I would love to see a role reversal where our plucky heroine is the one to take over as CEO of the gingerbread factory while her boyfriend abandons his own career to support her meteoric rise. This past summer, the media was all in an uproar over the fact that Crazy Rich Asians was the first major studio movie to feature an all Asian cast since Joy Luck Club in 1993. Likewise, CAN WE TALK ABOUT HOW MANY YEARS AGO MR. MOM CAME OUT??
Lastly, I want to touch upon the common theme that lurks in every Hallmark Holiday movie--that the simple, small town life is ultimately superior to the rat race in the Big Bad City. It’s rather mind-boggling to me the way that small town life is portrayed as the best life choice when none of them have a stadium big enough to support a Beyonce tour stop. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I can attest to the fact that large urban areas can also have outdoor ice skating areas (several!), holiday-themed craft fairs (we’re crawling with ‘em!), and lumberjacks (as long as you count any bearded dude in a flannel). Plus, I guarantee I can find way better Thai food.
I joke, and at the end of the day, there’s a billion things in the world that better deserve my outrage than the paint-by-the-numbers yarns that Hallmark dishes out on the regular. The holidays are a time of joy, tradition, and good cheer, and I appreciate that a sentimental little tale featuring the nostalgia-inducing, photogenic faces of Television Past can add warmth to a dreary winter day. You go girl and get your hygge on! But if you buy into the notion that an idealized image of Christmas Americana should exclude the diverse rainbow tapestry that makes up this country, I’m gonna give you some major side eye.