'The Christmas House' was written "to reflect the reality of countless families all over the world."
Hallmark Channel is standing by its promise to increase LGBTQIA+ visibility in its programming. The channel just debuted its first-ever Christmas flick starring a gay couple at the center of the story and going by reactions online, it's an absolute homerun! Titled The Christmas House, the film features Mean Girls actor Jonathan Bennett and Brad Harder playing a married couple looking to adopt their first child. Speaking to Los Angeles Times about the role, Bennett admitted that his initial thought when he was first sent the script was: "Who's my love interest? Who's my girl?"
It's an understandable instinct from the actor since the Hallmark Channel hasn't exactly been the harbinger of LGBTQIA+ representation in the past. In fact, just last year, its extensive roster of holiday films featured zero same-sex couples, and even when it did run an ad featuring a same-sex couple kissing on screen, it succumbed to backlash from conservatives and pulled the ad. The channel did, however, later revoke its decision, issue an apology for having yielded to the naysayers, and promised to do better this year; a promise, we're pleased to say, it has wholeheartedly fulfilled.
Speaking of the moment he found out he was due to play one half of the first gay couple highlighted in the network's annual "Countdown to Christmas" lineup of original movies, Bennett recalled: "My jaw practically hit the ground. And then I read the script, and I was in tears. I thought, is this really happening? This is groundbreaking." Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming and network publicity, explained that The Christmas House was written "to reflect the reality of countless families all over the world" and "signals our commitment to expanding our programming through modern storytelling in a way that allows everyone to share in the Hallmark experience. We aim to produce programming that resonates in a powerful, emotional way and reflects the experiences of viewers from all cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, belief systems, and lifestyles."
Brandon @JonathanBennett and Jake #BradHarder are hoping that their next holiday adventure will include one more addition to their family! RT if you hope their adoption is a success! 💖#TheChristmasHouse #CountdowntoChristmas pic.twitter.com/QYKwke9PAd— Hallmark Channel (@hallmarkchannel) November 23, 2020
While The Christmas House signifies an exciting new era of inclusivity for the Hallmark Channel, the filmmakers have taken care to avoid making it gay for the sake of being gay. It does not focus on the big coming out — which has more often than not been the central storyline of films and TV series built around queer characters — and instead follows three pairs of characters coming together for the holidays.
History being made. I’ve been a #hallmarkie for years. I live tweet all the time. I have my hallmark socks/mug. 😜 Proud that now my husband & I (together 20 years) can see ourselves represented on a channel that I love. 🥰🌈⛄️#TheChristmasHouse @hallmarkchannel pic.twitter.com/baKYMt9D5u— GᖇEGOᖇY G. ᗩᒪᒪEᑎ🇺🇸 (@GregoryGAllen) November 23, 2020
Thanks to the film being an ensemble piece, director Michael Grossman was able to approach Bennett and Harder's characters as he would any other Hallmark movie couple instead of defining them only by their sexual orientation. "They're just people, they love each other, they're part of this family and they're loved, period, full stop," Grossman said. "I thought it was a wonderful way to introduce this topic into a space where it really didn't exist before." As is normal for every other Hallmark movie couple, the film also features the spouses sharing a reassuring and romantic kiss.
Tune in NOW for the @hallmarkchannel Original Premiere of #TheChristmasHouse starring @robertbuckley @AnaAyora @JonathanBennett #BradHarder @sharonlawrence @Rtreatwilliams! Tweet along with us! ✨🎄#CountdowntoChristmas pic.twitter.com/HPA2oHiK9C— Hallmark Channel (@hallmarkchannel) November 23, 2020
"This scene is so beautiful and intimate because this couple has so much love for each other," said Harder said of filming the moment last fall. "It was magical. We were so honored to get to make history and represent LGBTQ couples just like in our personal lives." Meanwhile, Bennett recalled crew members of the Vancouver shoot approaching them after the scene with tears in their eyes. "They said, 'Hey, thank you for doing this. We work on a lot of these Christmas movies, and for the first time, we feel like we're part of the family too,'" he revealed.
I LOVE IT! Such A Cute Holiday Movie. As A Gay Man & Happily Married, This Made Me Smile. Thank You For Doing This. I Need More Gay Hallmark Movies In The Future. ❤️— Michael Jones-Alarcon (@MikeJones1718) November 23, 2020
Thank you Hallmark for a great movie. Showing everyone that Love is Love. pic.twitter.com/Lztvj0NVee— Roger Hoch (@imn2dzine) November 23, 2020
What a great movie! Thanks Hallmark and all of the actors in the movie! Favorite scene was the all of them back at the house for Christmas dinner the whole expanded family baby included. The watch on the Santa at the end too was Classic to bring it all together by magic♥️— Joanie Vaughn (@boragirl63) November 23, 2020
While the film has faced some pushback from conservative groups, Grossman — who is gay, as are Bennett and Harder — tries to empathize with them. "Look, I know what the reputation of the Hallmark Channel is, and what a lot of people across the country expect it to be," he said. "I'm hoping that some percentage of these people might just be able to squint their eyes a little bit and learn something about people being people, and people loving each other. And that it isn't all the things they might imagine it to be. I understand that, for some of the audience, the kiss is definitely pushing them to a potential limit. But, you know, limits need to be pushed sometimes." The Christmas House premiered on November 22 on the Hallmark Channel.