While holiday movies have enjoyed popularity this time of year, and films like The Happiest Season are showcasing inclusivity in the Christmas genre, movies around the holiday season still struggle with representation and diversity. With the Hallmark diversity crisis fresh in our minds, and truly diverse holiday screenplays few and far between, WeScreenplay has pursued the The Script Lab Script Library to find the screenplays that got it right for the time, could use another draft, or are fertile ground for a reboot: all holiday classics worth a read and a watch for anyone looking to bring some better representation to the mistletoe/menora genre. Whatever your holiday tradition (even if it’s a “Festivus for the rest of us”), you can learn from the foibles and triumphs of scripts that have pushed boundaries in Christmas past, with an eye toward bringing diversity to Christmas future.
Before we dive in, be sure you mark your calendar for our upcoming Diverse Voices Screenwriting Lab.
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Perhaps the most controversial on this list (with even gifted analysts entering the never-ending debate over whether or not the action classic qualifies as a bona fide holiday movie), we’ll put Die Hard as number one on this list. To be fair, Die Hard co-writer Steven E. de Souza has officially confirmed that it’s a holiday movie. Die Hard comes from a lineage of old-school action tropes and features an A-list cast headlined by Bruce Willis and the late, great Sir Alan Rickman. Why is it on this list? Die Hard established the formula for the everyman action hero that has been duplicated for the last thirty years, but it’s the uber-Aryan villains who surreptitiously showcase the power of John McClane’s diverse supporting cast. Featuring Reginald VelJohnson, De’voreaux White, and rounded out by Bonnie Bedelia, McClane is constantly having his very American bacon saved by a black cop and his ex-wife: showing truly that we are stronger together, against threats both foreign and domestic.
Tony Cox and the legendary king of comedy Bernie Mac built out an ensemble of irreverent characters in Bad Santa, with Billy Bob Thorton leading the way as the eponymous Bad Santa. Thornton, according to on-set sources, was a champion for greater diversity on his latest project Goliath, but outside of inclusion ally brownie points, the movie excels in equal opportunity rowdiness. Is it a particularly woke glimpse into a diverse future? Maybe not, but it does revolve around the laughs, with a cast that reflects the America we live in — raunchy drunk santas, swearing elves, and all. As Mr. Mac might say: “I don’t care about how I look; I’m dedicated to the laughs.”
While it might seem a stretch to call a script set in 17th century England “diverse,” the darker tone of the 2009 adaptation of A Christmas Carol strikes upon some realities of wealth disparity — using a classic fable to showcase real world issues of inequity. It might not be a revolutionary siren song, but the film showcases the power of compassion over systemic problems, and is approachable for a broad audience. Robert Zemeckis also penned the story during his period of fascination with animated cinema, meaning it’s a great template for screenwriters looking to write animated films for a diverse audience, both for what it does well, and where it falls short.
There’s a reason Jack Skellington has such a niche following, and Tim Burton’s Nightmare manages to embrace a story of cultures clashing and struggling for a peaceful and harmonious coexistence. The idea of The Nightmare Before Christmas as a parable for cultural appropriation isn’t new, and the script showcases how film can be a testing ground for ideas surrounding the complexity of diversity, inclusion, equity, and access. Jack’s path from taking Christmas to make his own (not unlike the common appropriation of black culture) to a place of humble curiosity shows how a screenwriter’s imagination can craft a vision of a better world, and do so with innovation and creativity over pedantry.
Another outlier, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a story that is at once script and time capsule: a quintessential foray into 80s-era suburban foibles, led by a domestically ambitious patriarch and filled out by idiosyncratic family members. The film itself is a dated classic, with a few uncomfortably outmoded aspects (all due respect to Mr. Randy Quaid), but the script works well in showcasing the kind of “kitchen-sink” comedies that are past due for a diverse makeover. The 2010 remake of Death At A Funeral managed to feature a unique cast and root itself a distinctly American culture while staying true to the original’s irreverent dark humor. As the suburbs become increasingly more diverse, it’s time to depict the new face of a changing America — crazy uncles and all.
So this holiday season, while you deck the halls and strategically plot digital family time, add some of these scripts to your holiday reading list, and be sure to make the Scriptlab Screenplay library the go-to for navigating screenplays in any genre. The Script Lab is a database of everything from A Clockwork Orange to Zootopia, and is the perfect place to see the page that built the foundation for your favorite films. Download a PDF for your tablet or e-reader as you find a comfy corner to catch up on some reading, or bookmark the script library as you work on your brand new holiday screenplay!
Joshua Noble is a Puerto Rican writer, actor, and producer based in Los Angeles, California. In addition to his career in TV and film, he is a founding producer of The American Playbook, a series of conversations and new works highlighting historically underrepresented voices, and currently serves as Director of the National Actors’ Retreat. Joshua received his MFA from the Yale School of Drama.