Filmed on location in Harlem and timed for the holidays, Fox Searchlight’s “Black Nativity” premiered Nov. 18 at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater.
The musical’s major coup was getting Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson back onscreen singing for the first time since “Dreamgirls.”
“This was a Langston Hughes play that’s done every year in African-American communities and (director) Kasi Lemmons wrote a script that’s relevant for today,” said executive producer Trudie Styler.
Styler and Hudson worked together on the last Rainforest benefit at Carnegie Hall. “Because of that I was able to talk to her directly but it took lots of convincing. She’s a super, super lady, an absolute pro with a big heart and we just appealed to her that this was an African-American story, going to be shot in Harlem, directed by an African-American woman. It checked all those boxes so she came onboard.”
“It took a couple of times, I must admit [to convince me]. But once I looked,” Hudson said, “at the story, the music, the church base, the holiday and the family — that’s all the things that make Jennifer.”
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As for “Dreamgirls,” do people still come up and start singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”?
“All the time,” Hudson exclaimed. “And they call me Effie. I think, ‘Wow, that was seven years ago. They won’t forget!’”
As for more seasonal songs, Styler likes “Silent Night.” “It’s in the movie but you won’t hear me sing it.”
“Sting,” she added, gesturing to her husband nearby in a huddle with Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, “does a pretty good rendition.”
Hudson prefers “O Holy Night.” “My tradition is to record a different version each year and this year I’m going to get started early so I can really explore.”
After the screening, the merry throng headed around the corner to Lennox Avenue’s Red Rooster for the afterparty.