Debbie Allen and Jenifer Lewis on how ‘Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square’ can help heal: ‘We need a musical right now’

Debbie Allen directed and choreographed the Netflix film that premieres November 22.

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With the holidays around the corner, there are more Christmas films on our list than we can count, but one that’s sure to stand out is Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square. 

The Netflix film directed by Debbie Allen features an all-star cast that includes Jenifer Lewis, Dolly Parton, Christine Baranski, and Treat Williams.

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Jenifer Lewis Debbie Allen Christmas thegrio.com
(Credit: Netflix)

Here’s the synopsis: 

A rich and nasty woman, Regina Fuller, returns to her small hometown after her father’s death to evict everyone and sell the land to a mall developer – right before Christmas. However, after listening to stories of the local townsfolk, reconnecting with an old love, and accepting the guidance of an actual angel, Regina starts to have a change of heart. This is the story about family, love, and how a small town’s Christmas spirit can warm even the coldest of hearts.

theGrio caught up with Allen and Lewis to discuss the fantastic family film and to find out how they’re handling the holiday season amid all the drama we’re currently facing. As 2020 has been a particularly challenging year and for some folks, it’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit. 

“It feels wonderful to be a part of something that we know will bring joy and a sense of forgiveness and what the world needs right now, because, you know, we’re going to still be losing people. This COVID is no joke and the world is in turmoil because of it,” says Allen.

“But this for this moment, it is a capsule in time. For this moment, it will give people some love, light and levity and allow them to believe in Christmas again, and that’s something that we need. We need that family tradition to come back into our lives.”

Parton is a national treasure, but it’s true that much of her work hasn’t necessarily been pointed at Black folks, and many in the community aren’t so familiar with her work. Christmas on the Square stands to introduce that Dolly magic to a new demographic. 

“That’s interesting that you say that because I really wasn’t thinking of that in the doing of it. I was only thinking of how great it was to be working with such a terrific composer. I’ve had the privilege to work with Arturo Sandoval, James Ingram with some really talented people. But Dolly is at the top of that list because she’s so versatile in her ability to write songs that appeal to the world,” says Allen.

“I think part of my journey with the music in particular was how do I take the music and transliterate to what it ought to be for the character and what could bring it to a now, which is why they are voguing honey in the hair salon, tap dancing while  going on in the bank. There’s all kinds of stuff. I just wanted to infuse it with everything that I could bring.”

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According to Lewis, the film is exactly what we all need to see as we grapple with the mental toll the pandemic, the election, and the ongoing unrest has taken. 

“Listen, the holiday season, the suicide rate goes up more than ever and God knows, we’ve had a lot of suicide notes, a lot of suicides during COVID-19. The world needs a musical right now,” Lewis says. 

“I have suffered with mental illness myself, and I’m going to be honest, a movie like this would just lift me up if I was still in that depressed state. There are a lot of families right now that need so much. So I’m asking everyone to look after one another…We’re habitual creatures, human beings, we’re used to Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween. Now we can’t do what we used to do.”

The black-ish star is  hoping people will lean into the spirit of the film as a form of self-care and be inspired to look out for family and friends. 

“We have to evolve to a new behavior now and everybody’s got to grow up. So many people want to fall out now, get drunk, get high, you know, do everything and eat, eat, eat,” she continues.  

“We’ve got to grow up and take care of one another. And I’m asking people to please stay safe…Do whatever you have to do to keep your joy inside of you. And ‘Christmas on the Square’ can play a big part in that.”

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square debuts November 22 on Netflix. 

Check out the full interview: 

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