Yes, the festive season is here and, in 2020, the simple comfort and joy found in watching holiday programming will take on a whole new level of appreciation for many. This year, Lifetime's rollout of new holiday movies will represent "the most festive, inclusive, and diverse year yet," according to Amy Winter, the network's executive vice president and head of programming. During the network's 'It's a Wonderful Lifetime' press day, leading Lifetime cast members, writers, and producers expressed the pride they hold in being a part of this year's slate of holiday films, which reflect the network's efforts to bring inclusive plot-driven narratives and diverse characters to the screen.
AnnaLynne McCord, who stars in Feliz NaviDAD (directed by Melissa Joan Hart), remarked that she is grateful to Lifetime for creating a powerful platform for women in television, whether that's through casting women as strong characters on screen or as creative leaders behind the scenes: "Seeing how women are being given these opportunities to not only star in the film, but produce, direct, create … I love that."
Tiya Sircar, who plays the lead character in Christmas On Wheels, also shared her perspective as an Indian American woman driving the plot in a holiday movie. "I had never heard of or seen of Christmas movies starring an Indian person, or a South Asian American before. Every character that I played in each of these movies that I've done so far, they are not stereotypical in the least," said Sircar. Women in Lifetime movies, she continued, also have agency and are not dependent on men. "She gets to tell the story and she is the pivotal character. I think in Hollywood that's not always the case, and I appreciate Lifetime for being so inclusive and celebrating diversity, and not letting stereotypical roles dictate what this character should be in, what her background is, and who she falls in love with."
This month, Lifetime is also releasing its first holiday movie that centers around a Chinese American family. "I'm getting a lot of feedback that people are so excited to be able to see someone that looks like them do normal things, celebrate Christmas, and be seen this way," said Jackie Lai, who stars as the lead character in A Sugar and Spice Holiday. "And all of the characters, the female characters, are very strong."
Another example of Lifetime's commitment to inclusive storytelling is the upcoming release of The Christmas Setup, the network's first Christmas movie with a leading LGBTQ storyline. When the film's writer, Michael Murray, approached the network about producing a romantic comedy with an LGBTQ storyline driving the plot, Lifetime gave his team the green light and full-on creative support.
Murray and Executive Producer Larry Grimaldi have been telling LGBTQ stories for the past couple of decades. But Grimaldi noted that, while in earlier years those movies were focused on "coming out and acceptance," they are now all about "individuality and the intersection in the world and in the communities we create." Grimaldi elaborated, "The beauty of working with Lifetime was they didn't want something noisy. They wanted something authentic and it was really nice to not have to have Michael create some kind of 'stunt plot.' There's nothing there that's 'stunt-y,' it's just about the fact that families are made up of a lot of unique individuals and it's time that we had that place at the Christmas table, and that's what people really want to see. We want to see the LGBTQ community be part of the cocoa-drinking, snowball-throwing type of tropes because that's what we really deserve."
As the season gets colder and the pandemic continues, holiday programming can make a difference by bringing viewers more diverse and inclusive television experiences. Millions of people are turning to these movies for escape and entertainment, and networks like Lifetime are prioritizing inclusivity to ensure that all Americans are seeing characters on screen who look like and live like them. Because, like Melissa Joan Hart remarked, "Whatever is going on in politics, whatever is going on in pandemic world, whatever is going on, we can all come to this safe place. And while we're making cookies or sitting on the couch with hot chocolate, we can watch these movies and feel like it's going to be OK."