It's Day Two of Queermas and we're back with another amazing guest article, this time by Eliza Lentzski, author of sunny festive romance, Sunscreen & Coconuts. Eliza discusses the lack of marginalised identities represented in made-for-TV Christmas movies in this passionate piece surrounding the festive film genre.
It’s time for a confession, ya’ll. I love formulaic, holiday romantic comedies. I do! And I don’t care who knows. I’m also, surprisingly, a big horror film fan, but as soon as November 1st rolls around, I shelve the serial killers and homicidal maniacs and dive into a giant cup of hot chocolate and my coziest pajamas.
Unlikely romances, stranded couples with travel troubles, second-chance romances, holiday homecomings, motivated real estate executives who threaten a multi-generational Christmas tree farm, failing cookie company CEOs, fake dating, royal romances... Sign. Me. Up. And, I’m only mildly annoyed that 99.9% of them feature straight, cis-gendered couples, typically of the white, Christian persuasion.
Every year, Hallmark, Lifetime, and others roll out an orgy of new Christmassy, trope-tastic fodder, starting as early as October. In fact, Hallmark this year produced a whopping forty—FORTY!—new films for the holiday season. Between Hallmark, Lifetime, Netflix, Great American [Garbage] Family (more on that later), HBO Max, BET+, and others, 2022 will have been blessed with over 160 new holiday-themed, made-for-TV movies.
But a word of caution. Not all formulaic holiday movies are created equal. You might think that any D-list actor can pull off a scenario like this: an aspiring marketing executive returns to their hometown where they reconnect with their ex-fling who, strangely enough, needs their marketing expertise to pull off the big Christmas gala or else the ornament factory that employs the entire town is going to be bought out by an evil real estate empire (probably owned by the main character’s less-than-savory fiancé) who wants to bulldoze the quaint little town and turn it into an upscale ski resort. But you would be wrong. This is art, people!
After years and years of winter movie binge-watching, I’ve established a list of actors who I know will produce the best films of the holiday season. I don’t even have to read the film’s scenario, I just set my DVR to record. They’re probably familiar actors to you, too, particularly if you’re a fan of Mean Girls or late 1980s family sit-coms. It takes a lot of work to figure out which of the 160+ Christmas movies will be worth one’s time, which is why I was heartbroken—absolutely heartbroken—to discover that many of my favorite actors (Candace Cameron Bure, Danika McKellar, Jen Lilley, Jessica Lowndes, and Trevor Donovan) were leaving Hallmark to join a new network with a dog-whistle-y name—Great American Family.
Deep breath. I’m not allotted enough words to get into the backstory of how this network came to be and the far-right money that’s funding it, or even their icky mission statements about “traditional marriage,” but let’s just say they want to Make Christmas Great Again. And when I say they’re dreaming of a White Christmas … I’m not talking about the weather forecast.
The past few years have provided a relative banquet of LGBTQ holiday movies—Netflix’s Single All the Way and Lifetime’s Under the Christmas Tree and The Christmas Setup are just a few of my favorites from the past two seasons. This year, however, I’ve only come across one queer-driven holiday rom-com—Hallmark’s The Holiday Sitter (December 11th). The film will be the card company’s first Christmas movie that focuses on a same-sex couple. There have been others with queer couples as supporting characters, but this will be the network’s first that centers on a queer romance. And apparently that was one queer film too many for Hallmark’s former Christmas Queen, Candace Cameron Bure.
You might be thinking the same as I did when I first heard the news. Hallmark was too edgy for Candace Cameron Bure and others? What? Hallmark? But, apparently CCB saw the writing on the walls. BIPOC couples were getting storylines, Hanukkah is a thing now, and I think the best friend in that one movie might be gay. Time to jump the holiday ship. To say I’m disappointed would be a massive understatement.
I’m old enough to remember a time when all we had was subtext. Positive portrayals of same-sex couples just didn’t exist. And because there was so little queer representation on television and in film, we thirsted for queer content. We wrote epically long fanfiction to fill in “missing scenes” or “alternative endings” when the showrunner messed it up (I’m looking at you, Killing Eve). We watched HOURS of TERRIBLE movies just for a single, sapphic kiss. And yes, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and even Lifetime have been getting into the holigays as of late, but when I see my TV Guide filled with multiple months of non-stop, original holiday programming, is it really too much to ask for a little more smooching under the rainbow-colored mistletoe?
Whenever Pride month passes, I like to remind folks about the creatives who do this work—sustaining the LGBTQ community—all year long, not just in the month of June. This holiday season, I’m reminding myself of that again. One day we might see better equity in our TV Christmas love stories, but until that happens, I’m focusing on the small-print publishers and indie authors who do this work year-round. My DVR will be a few films lighter than usual this season, but my Kindle will be packed with new holiday novellas and novels. I hope yours will be, too.
Eliza Lentzski is the best-selling author of sapphic romance novels including the Winter Jacket and Don’t Call Me Hero series. Although a historian by day, Eliza is passionate about fiction. She lives in Boston with her wife and their cat, Charley.
About Sunscreen & Coconuts
Midwest-to-Boston transplant, Mercy Lewis, has always been responsible. Cautious. Careful. She wore sunscreen to the beach. A lifejacket on a boat. She only crossed the street at crosswalks. She enjoyed life in moderation, and she didn’t indulge. So why is she having such a hard time remembering that when she meets a beautiful expatriate on a tropical island?
Mercy had been promised Christmas in the Caribbean; she never imagined she would get so much more.