Holidays can be tough if you’re non binary, non-hetero, have a small income, or aren’t surrounded by family for the holidays. Over the years, the mainstream holiday film, The Standard Christmas Movie, about a white, heteronormative family discovering the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ always tops lists for viewers.
And sure, classic Christmas movies can be nostalgic, but where are the non-white, non-heteronormative narratives for holidays? Where is the representation of other holidays, like Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? What about feminist Winter tales like the Snow Queen or the recognition of Mrs. Claus? Where are the films that pass the Bechdel Test? Or star women who are not treated like unpaid servants in the kitchen?
We’ve done some poking around and found some diverse and feminist friendly movies that will warm your hearts this holiday season.
One of the only movies to be shot on an iPhone AND win seven different awards, Tangerine is a non-heteronormative breath of fresh, wintery air.The film centers on two trans sex workers of color, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, who spend Christmas Eve searching for Sin-Dee’s cheating boyfriend (and pimp) for revenge. Unlike most Hollywood movies that include fictional transgender characters, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are actually trans actresses. This representation, and accurate casting, makes this film an even more authentic experience.
Yes, this may be an obvious one, but have you ever thought about how the plot of TNBC may be an allegory for cultural appropriation? Jack, the pumpkin king and expert at Halloween, becomes so bored with 365 days of his spooky holiday that he attempts to highjack Christmas from a neighbouring town. Though he means no harm, he puts Christmas Town in jeopardy for two reasons: 1) His idea of Christmas is terrifying, and 2) He inadvertently gets Santa kidnapped by Halloween Town’s most evil inhabitant. The movie shows us that it’s okay to appreciate the culture of others, and it’s okay to join in, but the moment you try to change that culture, or take it as your own, it changes the meaning entirely and becomes falsely appropriated.
If you’re looking for a nice twist on the “looking for the perfect Christmas” story, this this is it. Based on a true story of California college student Jackie Turner’s brilliant idea for putting an ad on Craigslist for a mom and dad during the holidays, My One Christmas Wish is the perfect heart-warming holiday tale. Glee’s Amber Riley plays the hopeful Jackie, looking for the family she never had for Christmas. If you’re as sick of the “hey white man, please save our kids” trope as we are, then this movie puts an interesting spin on it. Jackie is in charge of helping troubled teens work out their anger, and put their passion into creativity instead, but unlike white savior films like The Ron Clark Story or Dangerous Minds, Jackie understands the girls she’s teaching as she came from a similar background. Even then, she still understands the privileges she has over them as an adult with an education, a home, and a job under her belt. This humbling plot line, and incredibly Christmassy atmosphere of this movie, will warm your heart during even the coldest nights.
Starring the one and only queen Latifah, Last Holiday is a fun movie about treasuring every moment of your life, and making it your own. After a heartbreaking diagnosis from her doctor, Georgia Byrd (Latifah) is determined to throw away her shyness and knock out every item on her bucket list during one last vacation. Base jumping, black diamond skiing, expensive spa treatments, dinners fit for a millionaire; she does it all. Not only is Last Holiday about a black woman who stops at nothing to live her life the way she wants to, but the movie also teaches us that life is too short to wait around for it to come to you. Georgia shows us that you shouldn’t wait until you’re dying to do everything you’ve always dreamed of, but if you do, then just enjoy it anyway. This is a bit spoiler-y folks, but if you’re scared this movie will majorly bum you out at the end…then don’t worry, it won’t. Trust us.
For our Winter lovers out there, the animated classic An American Tail is not the saccharine Christmas film you think it is, in fact, Christmas isn’t even mentioned at any point in the movie. But the movie does give off snowy and chilly vibes, as well as an important social justice message about immigration and the lives of immigrant children. Our main character Fievel and his family are Russian immigrants who have freshly moved to New York city. The mice have been promised several things that real life immigrants are still offered to this day: great wealth, a large clean home, and more freedom than you know what to do with, but in real life and in the movie, we see this has been greatly exaggerated. Slums, con men, disease, poverty, immigrants face all of this and more, as does Fievel (as well as some evil cats.) That being said, there’s a warm glow to this movie that will spark some hope in your hearts. Movies like this just want to make you work even harder to make this world and future better place for immigrants.
Finally a Kwanzaa movie! Directed and produced by MK Asante, and written and narrated by Maya Angelou, The Black Candle is a documentary about the culture of African American communities around the holiday season. The movie includes interviews from many performers such as Chuck D and Farmer John Brown, about the intriguing celebration. For those who are unfamiliar with the holiday, the film paints a very informative picture of how the holiday came into being, and how it celebrates blackness.
After his boyfriend dies, drag queen Holiday Heart befriends the drug addicted single mother Wanda and her daughter Niki. Holiday invites them to stay in order for Wanda to recover, and for Niki to have some stability in her life, but life turns into a rollercoaster pretty quickly. What’s really at the heart – punintensional – of this movie is the idea that family can overcome anything if they stick together and care for each other, and how you define family is not due to blood or upbringing, but by love, loyalty, and devotion.
Move over, Wonder Woman. There’s a new female superhero in town. And she has her own female supervillains to defeat as well. The Japanese Sailor Moon franchise is one of the first mainstream films to feature an anime superhero that defeats evil solely on her own without the help of a male superhero. Did we also mention you can watch it in either Japanese or English? In her second film, Sailor Moon must battle a queen loosely based on The Snow Queen fairytale by Hans Christen Andersen. Sailor Moon’s attempt to heal Princess Kaguya reveals elements of compassion and peace to be restored in this anime fantasy film. The powerful “snow magic” isn’t only for evil in this film: friendships and love come from it as well.
A musical about the brains behind Mr. Claus? Finally. In an attempt to convince her husband to take a new Christmas Eve route, Mrs. Claus becomes stranded in New York city with one of her reindeer after attempting a test drive of the route herself. She is invited to stay with a Jewish family who don’t celebrate Christmas, and befriends many interesting and wholesome characters throughout the holiday. As average a Christmas flick as this looks, the depth comes from what Mrs Claus learns from her Jewish roommates, as well as the blight of child poverty, anti-semitism, and women’s rights.
Possibly one of the most mainstream films on this list, and another film inspired by Hans Christen Anderson, Disney’s Frozen is an allegory for turning a disability into a superpower. As a child, Elsa learned that her magical powers have the ability to render things completely frozen, including her sister Anna. Scared of people learning about her powers just before being crowned as the queen of Ardenelle, Elsa retreats to a winter palace she created for herself. The two sisters must learn how to come together and cope with Elsa’s powers. Oh, what sisterly love can do.