Hallmark’s 2020 Christmas Movie List Takes a Step Towards Diversity

Hallmark, as many know, is the channel to which a Christmas lover turns during the holiday season. A casual holiday browser might encounter any variety of sappy Christmas movies on the TV, from Christmas in Rome to Christmas at the Plaza all the way to Christmas in Evergreen. But despite the sheer amount of Christmas movies this company manages to churn out, with ever-changing locations, situations, and hard-hearted characters who manage to soften in light of this particular holiday season, there is one thing that they seem to have avoided for years: diversity.

Most of Hallmark’s classically cheesy movies feature white, heterosexual couples, pandering to the white, heterosexual people who watch their channel. They have a history of avoiding any content that might seem “controversial” to their conservative base. It’s not just Hallmark, either; the movie industry in general has only just started releasing LGBTQ+ content in mainstream media, and even then, characters tend to be tokenized or stereotyped. Troodon Ilex, a Franklin graduate, expresses their discomfort with LGBTQ+ representation in the media: “Either the gay character is a side character or their entire narrative is about their sexuality until that gets played out,” they say. “Most LGBTQ+ [representation] seems well-intentioned, but the truth is that these companies want to make money, and to do that all LGBTQ+ storylines must also appeal to [cisgender, hetereosexual] people.”

In past years, Hallmark’s Christmas movie list had shied away from even background gay characters, seemingly to avoid any potential controversy. But as the years have gone on, this non-move has been criticized as a symptom of the homophobia present in the movie industry, and this year Hallmark has decided to take a small step towards a more inclusive image. Their Christmas movie list, though not groundbreaking, features some protagonists of color, Hanukkah celebrations, and one movie co-starring long-awaited gay characters. Many viewers may see these changes as a good thing, a small step to celebrate. But not all Hallmark movie watchers agree; in fact, one group has expressed their upset with the channel through a boycott.

One Million Moms is part of the conservative American Family Association. Their goal, written on their website, is to “stop the exploitation of [their] children, especially by the entertainment media” and “stand against the immorality, violence, vulgarity and profanity the entertainment media is throwing at [their] children.” This website takes a stand against “inappropriate” content on TV, bad words in advertising, and the “gay agenda,” and Hallmark has not been spared by this rampage. Along with warning parents against an Oreo commercial and boycotting “controversial” shows, they have taken a stand against Hallmark for their decision to include one movie in their roundup featuring a gay couple. 

You’d think the outrage it has sparked within this group of moms would imply that this movie is somehow inappropriate, not fit for children to watch. But Hallmark’s approach to diversity has been exactly what you might expect: conservative.
The Christmas House, aired on November 23, balances the perceived controversy of including a gay storyline with a focus on family and traditions. Brandon and Jake’s struggle to adopt their first child seems to be the background of the main event: Brandon’s brother Mike attempting to find a second chance with the girl next door. The overarching theme of the movie, besides the romance, is the importance of family and celebrating together—something you’d think the American Family Association would love to see.  

That being said, the representation in this movie was still nice to see. There was no outright discussion or struggle with the characters’ sexuality, and their relationship didn’t seem to be anything other than completely normal to all of the characters. Brandon and Jake seemed so casually happy, something that gay characters in film hardly ever get to experience. There were some stereotypes that could be spotted, and the acting seemed a bit forced at times—but what’s a Hallmark movie without a bit of forced acting and stereotypes? It seemed to be the least contentious way Hallmark could have handled the issue. It was a way to try and appease those pushing for more LGBTQ+ representation without compromising their conservative audience—or at least that seems to have been the goal. 

As for One Million Moms (or, more accurately, the 72,450 who signed the petition) this was too much, and having any gay characters, even those who weren’t the main focus of the film, merited a boycott. However, the “family values” mentioned so frequently on their website seemed to be strongest in Brandon and Jake’s storyline. Not only did both of them take time off work to come and be with their family, they were growing their own. This move seems deliberate on Hallmark’s part; their dedication to family values is reflected quite clearly in the movie and the gay characters alike. 

Overall, this movie was just like any other Hallmark Christmas movie: the standard ambiguous title, a cheesy romance, actors you might never have heard of, and a happy ending seen from a mile away. The only difference was that not everyone was straight. The representation was so casual, it wasn’t even discussed, and although including queer characters in a mainstream narrative is a big step, it was quite possibly the most unassuming way for the company to take that step. Ultimately, this shows their lack of commitment to either side—the company seems to want to walk the line between pandering to their conservative audience and providing some representation for those who aren’t white and straight. This year’s movie list was a small, tentative step towards including different types of stories in their movies, but the company needs to show their commitment to on-screen representation with more than a couple of background characters. Everyone can enjoy a cheesy holiday romance that represents them—not just straight people.

This year, Hallmark is ringing in the holiday season with the network’s first ever gay couple. Illustration by Bijou Allard.

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