Oscar-winning actress, Jennifer Hudson, stars in the rousing new musical, Black Nativity. She delivers a terrific performance as Naima, a single mother in Baltimore struggling to make ends meet. Evicted from her home, she sends her son, Langston, to New York to spend Christmas with her estranged parents (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett). Staying in Harlem, with grandparents he has never known, is tough and the teenager discovers secrets that have torn the family apart. With soaring music and a powerful story about forgiveness, the film is upbeat and inspiring.
Chicago born and raised, Jennifer Hudson began singing and performing at the age of seven with her church choir and community theatre group. Hudson, 32, lives with her partner, professional wrestler David Otunga, and their four-year-old son. In 2009, Hudson, along with her sister Julia, founded The Julian D King Gift Foundation in memory of Jennifer’s nephew and Julia’s son, who was tragically killed in 2008. Elaine Lipworth spoke to Jennifer about life, motherhood and love.
ELAINE LIPWORTH (EL): What was the appeal of Black Nativity?
JENNIFER HUDSON (JH): I loved the themes of spirituality, faith, family and holidays. I feel as though we’re missing those things today. I’m a holiday and family fanatic, and I grew up in a church, so there were times when we were filming that I would forget I was on the set, because I really felt that I was back home at church.
EL: You grew up singing in church, are you still a spiritual person?
JH: Oh goodness, religion has been my life. That’s my base. I come from a spiritual upbringing and was, as we call it, born into the church – a lap baby, sitting on my mama’s lap in the choir stand. It’s a huge part of my roots. We spent the majority of the week in church. On Sundays, we had Sunday school, morning service, and then evening service. On Mondays, I don’t even know why we were in church, but we were there (laughs). Tuesdays, we had choir rehearsal, and Wednesdays we did Bible study (laughs).
EL: What would you say the film is really all about?
JH: The film has so many different elements. You have the musical aspect; you have the dream aspect; you have a poetry element, and you have a Broadway touch to it, as well. The film shows the reality of having obstacles and setbacks in life and that, no matter what one is going through, one should always have forgiveness, and never be separated from the love of family.
EL: Is music in your DNA?
JH: I come from a host of singing relatives. It’s just a part of us, and it’s what we do when we get together. Singing is what all my family prides themselves on most. It’s our talent. My music is definitely a gift from God, and that’s why it’s so important for me to use it and exercise it. Someone once told me that singing is my gift, and acting is my reward for using my gift. God chose to bless me with an acting career, because I honoured the gift of singing that He gave me.
EL: What are your family’s Christmas traditions?
JH: We like to get started the day after Halloween! We shop for our gifts and we light the tree. We’re still stuck about whether to buy a real tree or a fake one. I grew up with a fake Christmas tree, but Big Dave [her partner] grew up with a real Christmas tree. This past year, we decided to get a real tree from the forest, but it didn’t do so well, so now I wonder what it’s going to be this year (laughs).
EL: How will you be celebrating Christmas this year?
JH: My new tradition is all about sharing and giving back. My sister and I have our foundation, The Julian D King Gift Foundation, in honour of my late nephew. We give back to unfortunate kids for the holidays, because we want to make sure that no kid is ever without.
So, it’s a three-day experience. We have a dinner for children that we nominate. They have to do well in school, and we grant them whatever their Christmas wish is; it’s their moment. Then, we have a local toy drive, and we give to all the kids in Chicago. We also have another toy drive. Finally, we go home and have our holiday thing and relax.