It was in September when we announced that Fox Searchlight's planned Kasi Lemmons' musical Black Nativity, had been put on hold, due to the fact that an actor to play the lead male role had yet to be secured.
The project initially had Samuel L. Jackson's interest, as well as Laurence Fishburne, and several other *name* black actors in that age group, but they all reportedly passed on the project, which I thought was strange. It wasn't entirely clear exactly why all of these actors passed on the role (although it was noted that Samuel's asking price may have been too much for the film's reported $10 million budget). It was stated that the role needed an actor who could sing, and be believable as the father of Jennifer Hudson (who's already attached to star in the project).
With that list of criteria – black, old enough, can sing, and be a recognizable *name* actor willing to work within a $10 million budget – the pool of available actors is a very small one.
This of course speaks to the non-cultivation of black actor/stars in Hollywood, which we've addressed a lot on this blog.
Now comes word, courtesy of Black Film, that Forest Whitaker has been cast as the male lead. Although I can't help but wonder if he was one of those actors who was initially interested but passed, and now, for whatever reason, has returned.
Angela Bassett is also attached to star in the film as J-Hud's mother (now Whitker's wife), which is based on Langston Hughes' Broadway gospel musical.
The project has actually been in the works since 2009, when we first announced it. The story centers on a young black teen from Baltimore, who is sent to Harlem by his mother to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged grandparents. The boy then learns the real meaning of faith and family when his grandfather delivers a Christmas Eve sermon and "a stylized, dream-sequence retelling of the classic Nativity story."
Let's see if Forest sticks, or if we'll be talking about a replacement in another few months.
The project is now set to go into production early next year.