A few years ago, I was at the Tournament of Roses House in Pasadena, attending a fancy-schmantzy Hallmark Channel party. And I was bored. So I started idly watching the monitors set up around the venue, which had clips from dozens and dozens of Hallmark Channel movies on a loop.
I wasn’t paying much attention, until it suddenly occurred to me — almost every single person in every single clip was white.
I mean, it’s not like it was a total surprise. I had watched Hallmark Channel movies, after all. But all those clips packaged together drove home the point that Hallmark was remarkable for its lack of diversity.
I pointed this out to my TV critic pals. And it became a bit of a dark joke at Hallmark’s events during Television Critics Association press tours over the next few years. The hashtag #hallmarksowhite trended, and, earlier this year, there was backlash to a Hallmark social media post in support of Black Lives Matters that questioned the channel’s hypocrisy.
It has to be said that the Hallmark Channel has made progress. There are more ethnic minorities in its movies, and it added a couple of Hanukkah-themed holiday movies last year. Well, Christmas movies with a few Jewish characters. And it has another one this year — “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” on Dec. 20.
So … three out of 80. But … progress.
And after very stupidly shooting itself in the foot with an unforced public relations disaster last year, Hallmark is actually acknowledging the existence of the LGBTQ community in “The Christmas House” (Sunday, 6 p.m.).
In December 2019, Hallmark reacted to a protest by an “organization” that calls itself “One Million Moms” — which, as it turns out, is basically one woman with an anti-gay agenda. The channel pulled ads for a wedding-planning website because one of many ceremonies in the ads featured a same-sex couple. After pulling the ads prompted an outcry from a lot of people, Hallmark backtracked, apologizing and offering lame excuses.
Not coincidentally, the programming and PR executives who bumbled their way through this no longer work at Hallmark.
It’s also not a coincidence that in August, Hallmark aired the TV movie “Wedding Every Weekend,” which featured four weddings — one of them a same-sex ceremony. Or that “The Christmas House” features a couple of gay guys — although they’re not the primary focus of the TV movie.
It’s the latest in a long line of Hallmark Channel movies about a family getting together to celebrate the holidays. TV star Mike (Robert Buckley) comes home, and his parents (Sharon Lawrence and Treat Williams) are going all out to turn their home into “The Christmas House” one last time. The family reunion includes Mike’s brother, Brandon (Jonathan Bennett), and Brandon’s husband, Jake (Brad Harder) — who, it turns out, are trying to adopt a baby.
That’s just one of several plotlines that include possible ulterior motives by Mike’s former flame, Andi (Ana Ayora) — and some sort of secret that Mike and Brandon’s parents seem to be hiding. So, no, the gay characters are not the focus.
But at least they’re there. And they’re not, thank goodness, struggling with their sexuality or coming out. There’s something to be said for making them just two more members of the family.
And Hallmark isn’t the only TV outlet that’s remembering that LGBTQ people exist this year. Hulu is streaming “Happiest Season”; Netflix is streaming “A New York Christmas Wedding”; “The Christmas Setup” premieres Dec. 12 on Lifetime; “Dashing in December” debuts Dec. 13 on the Paramount Network — and those all feature gay characters front and center.
In some dark corners of America, there are, no doubt, people arguing that this is some sort of recruitment effort. And that is, of course, ludicrous — you can’t turn anyone gay with a TV movie (or any other way), and we’re talking about a tiny fraction of the overall Christmas TV movie output.
This feels a lot more like simply acknowledging, in a very small way, that the LGBTQ community exists. If this wasn’t a new phenomenon for outlets like Hallmark, it wouldn’t even be worth writing about.
Here’s hoping that in a few years, that’ll be the case.