Every time Lil Rel Howery watches his new Disney+ film “Dashing Through the Snow,” he gets “emotional” seeing a Black Santa.
“Because, it’s like, you see Black Santa – [Chris “Ludacris” Bridges” and I] were talking about this earlier – when you see the end of the movie, like, every time I see the end of it, and I’m like, ‘Is it weird because it’s me?’ But, I always get emotional,” Howery, who plays Santa “Nick” Claus in the film, told TheWrap. “Like, wow, just to see Santa fly through the air. That’s a Black Santa. He’s waving. It’s just a beautiful thing because we don’t see that often. I’m actually very honored and cannot wait to see how children react to this because I do think it’s so very special what we did with the representation.”
While Black actors have had roles where they embodied a Black Santa — like Whoopi Goldberg in the 2001 movie “Call Me Claus” or the late John Witherspoon in “Friday After Next,” Hollywood has seemingly yet to portray a traditional, cookie-eating, coming-through-the-chimney-with-gifts Santa Claus. The lack of representation of Black Santas could be attributed to the country’s history with contesting images of a Black Santa; retired U.S. military veteran Larry Jefferson faced racial abuse from visitors after Mall of America hired him as its first-ever Black Santa in 2016.
Howery went on to say that this role is one he appreciates differently because of what it provides to Black children, and people of color as a whole.
“I can’t wait to watch the movie again … you want to pay more attention to it and actually appreciate what this is,” Howery said. “This is a Black Santa Claus like we haven’t seen like that. It’s not like a Santa Claus that works at the department store….”
“Or robbing somebody,” Bridges chimed in.
“Yeah, this is Mr. Cool, magical Santa Claus,” Howery continued.
Packer felt the same as his actors, saying that while the film will to bring together families, it will also spotlight diversity, Black issues as well as stigmas around mental health issues.
“As artists, we should be telling stories that haven’t been told before, or telling stories in a different way than they’ve been told before. That’s what this afforded us the opportunity to do,” Packer said.
He continued: “You got the Black Santa, Black dad, the Black daughter, but also you talk about mental health with African American men. That is not something that is dealt with very often. Childhood trauma; that’s something that we don’t talk about a lot. So it wasn’t a film where we wanted to attack these issues in a heavy way. It’s a film that’s supposed to be light and fun for the holidays. But I think you can still do that and drop in some gems and that’s what we tried to do.”
“Dashing Through the Snow,” directed by Tim Story and produced by Packer’s Will Packer Productions, made its debut on Disney+ on Nov. 17.
The story centers Eddie Garrick (Bridges, a social worker who no longer believes in the magic of Christmas due to a traumatic childhood experience). But with the help of his Christmas-loving daughter Charlotte (Madison Skye Validum) and good ol’ Saint Nick — who just goes by Nick (Howery) — the group embarks on a mission to restore Eddie’s faith in Christmas while evading wicked politician Conrad Harf (Oscar Nuñez).
“I wish I would have had this when I was young and got to see this representation, but I’m glad my children are able to see,” Bridges said.