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“Black Nativity,” a holiday movie opening Nov. 27 in theaters nationwide, is based on a Langston Hughes gospel libretto. It may be set in Harlem, but it has a strong Carolina connection.

The Fox Searchlight film’s superstar lineup includes Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Mary J. Blige and newcomer Jacob Lttimore.

Photo of Joy Goodwin.
Joy Goodwin.

Joy Goodwin, the film’s executive producer, has been a lecturer in creative writing and communication studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill since fall 2012. She also teaches at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Her husband, Ethan Basch, is a jazz musician and a faculty member at UNC‘s Lineberger Comprehensive Care Center.

At UNC, Goodwin is teaching “Introduction to Creative Nonfiction” and “Writing the Profile” this fall and “Introduction to Screen Adaptation” in the spring.

Goodwin said she saw an off-Broadway production of “Black Nativity” in 2007, decided to option the rights to the material and began looking for a director and writer to help turn the play into a movie. Working with writer/director Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou,” “Talk to Me”), they made a successful pitch to Fox Searchlight, which agreed to make the movie.

The film centers around Langston (Latimore), a street-wise teen from Baltimore raised by a single mother (Hudson), who travels to Harlem to spend Christmas with his estranged relatives, the Rev. Cornell and Aretha Cobbs (played by Whitaker and Bassett).

“Black Nativity” was written by Hughes in 1961 as sort of a large-scale Christmas pageant. It’s been performed by groups across the country for many years, Goodwin said.

“It’s a real blending of theater and community and music, and of course the text has a profound meaning for audiences,” she said. “For many of the actors in the film, who grew up performing gospel music or the play itself, it was a chance for them to reconnect.”

Read more.

Read about Langston Hughes’s visit to UNC in 1931.

Published November 24, 2013.