DVD Release Date: April 15, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: November 27, 2013
Rating: PG (for thematic material, language, and a menacing situation)
Genre: Drama/Musical
Run Time: 93 minutes
Directors: Kasi Lemmons
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige, Jacob Latimore, Nas, Vondie Curtis Hall

Let's address the issue of this title upfront: at first blush, Black Nativity sounded to me like a cheesy (and possibly disrespectful) attempt at urban demographic pandering. But a quick look at the artists involved instantly piqued my interest... and I'm as white as they come. You may not recognize every name in the cast and crew, but trust me: this is a Dream Team.

First, the source material: a 1961 play by legendary writer Langston Hughes which has been performed annually in Boston since 1969. Then there's writer/director Kasi Lemmons (Talk To Me, Eve’s Bayou), the award-winning African-American indie filmmaker who has expanded and updated the play to a modern musical. The songs are spearheaded by Grammy-winner Raphael Saadiq, the current standard bearer for old school Motown R&B (with jazz and hip-hop flavors) – with an assist from Stevie Wonder on the closing number. And finally the Who's Who cast: Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson (both Oscar winners), Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Vondie Curtis Hall, and hip-hop artists Mary J. Blige and Nas. It's even guided by executive producer T.D. Jakes.

The pedigree of this bench runs deep; does it deliver? After a routine setup it does – and at a family-friendly level that doesn't shirk tough issues. Black Nativity not only captures the spirit and meaning of Christmas, but the actual Message itself.

For those familiar with Hughes's play, this movie is not a straight adaptation. Where Hughes's narrative retold a Nativity story with an all-black cast, this tells a modern-day tale of a broken family. Elements of the play are woven in, from a literal church production to stylized dream sequences and even Mary & Joseph surrogates, but on the whole this movie is doing its own thing – including an almost-entirely new soundtrack, ditching the source's reliance on traditional Christmas songs in favor of new tracks that mix R&B, pop, gospel, and splashes of hip-hop (along with two original Hughes numbers – "Rise Up Shepherd and Follow" and "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" – that make the final cut).

CrosswalkMovies.com: Stars of Black Nativity Talk Faith, Family, and Forgiveness from crosswalkmovies on GodTube.

In an overt nod to Hughes, the main character here is a Baltimore teen named Langston (Jacob Latimore). Abandoned by Langston's father, Langston's mom Naima (Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls) struggles to make ends meet as a single parent. When she receives an eviction notice right before the holidays, she ships Langston off to Harlem to stay with her parents Cornell and Aretha Cobbs (Whitaker, Lee Daniels’ The Butler; Bassett, Akeelah and the Bee). Langston has never met his grandparents due to estrangement between Naima and her folks since Langston's out-of-wedlock birth.