by Sara Wong, Arts & Culture Editor
I usually refer to watching Hallmark movies as my guilty pleasure. Not because they’re super cheesy, but because of the network’s history of prioritizing white, cisgender, heterosexual, and overall normative stories. However, with the latest batch of Christmas movies, I’ve noticed a significant change in the amount of diversity shown.
In less than a year, Hallmark’s LGBTQ2+ representation went from plausibly deniable (two men dancing close together at a final party scene) to front and centre with actors Jonathan Bennett and Brad Harder playing the first gay lead couple in a Hallmark flick. For anyone interested, the title is The Christmas House, and it was by far my favourite Christmas movie of 2020.
Bennett and Harder were not the only ones to make Hallmark history. Indo-Canadian actress Nazneen Contractor, star of The Christmas Ring, was Hallmark’s first South Asian lead. Vancouver’s Antonio Cayonne also became one of Hallmark’s first BIPOC leads with his role in Christmas in Evergreen: Bells are Ringing.
Hallmark’s Christmas 2020 lineup also included Jewish representation with the movie Love, Lights, Hanukkah!, and interracial couples in movies such as Jingle Bell Bride and The Christmas Bow. The latter featured Lucia Micarelli, an American musician and actress who is half Korean — a noteworthy detail because I have never seen anyone distinctly East Asian as a primary character in a Hallmark film. After years of watching these movies, expecting to see mostly white people on my screen, I didn’t think that having someone who looked more like myself represented would mean so much, but it did.
Obviously, Hallmark still has a long way to go in terms of diverse representation. For instance, while The Christmas House did have a leading gay couple, it also featured two heterosexual couples as part of the main cast. I would love to see a Hallmark movie in the future where an LGBTQ2+ romance was given more focus than a heterosexual one. Also, while there have definitely been more primary and secondary BIPOC characters lately, I would say that three quarters of casts are still white.
While I am disappointed that it took this long for Hallmark to stop casting the same rotation of white actors and actresses in their movies, I’m happy to see them making a conscious effort now. It’s better late than never, and I can now say, without embarrassment, that I’m a Hallmark movie fan.