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Especially in a turbulent year like this one, there’s something comforting about a predictable Hallmark Christmas movie. The workaholic finds the Christmas spirit, the couple ends up together, the kid gets a puppy. But (again, especially in a year like this one) there’s also something pretty disconcerting about the holiday movie world—namely, they take white Christmas a little too seriously. This image that’s been circulating the web recently says it all:
As small changes are being made throughout the world, so too is Hallmark switching it up. In the upcoming movie Christmas in Evergreen: Bells are Ringing, BIPOC characters make up the main love story. One half of this Christmas couple is Vancouver actor Antonio Cayonne, who you may recognize from the X-Files as well as restaurants The Mackenzie Room and Say Mercy!—he’s the director of operations at Collective Hospitality.
And it’s not just the look of the characters that’s different: Cayonne says that this film is really reshaping the Christmas in Evergreen norm. Bells are Ringing is the fourth movie in the series, and the first to feature two characters from the town of Evergreen falling in love (in the past, it’s always been one character from Evergreen and one from the big city—classic). What’s usually a whirlwind romance is instead a relationship built over time and experience. “Mine and Rukiya Bernard’s characters, we grew up in the town, we know nothing but the town,” says Cayonne, “so that has allowed us this exciting opportunity to develop a little more of a robust story that isn’t just about the meet-cute.” Instead of the chance holiday encounter that usually unites Hallmark lovers, Cayonne and Bernard’s characters have been friends since they were children.
“Ruki and I have spoken at length about what it means to show up authentically,” says Cayonne. “If it wasn’t honest, it just wouldn’t make sense.” This isn’t easy in a Hallmark film with a very strict formula (Cayonne compares watching a Christmas movie is like slipping into an old sweater). “With that comes obvious predictability, and it’s difficult take something that is predictable and turn it on its head,” says the actor.
To maintain authenticity but keep the Christmas spirit alive, the pair focused on what they knew about relationships in their own lives. “I got to dig into these crevices—these crunchy spots of how relationships work and don’t work,” says Cayonne. Spotlighting an honest love story between people of colour isn’t particularly on-brand for any holiday movie, but hopefully it will be, soon. “I’m a big advocate for representation, and for being to show up in the world and send my message to the next generation,” says Cayonne, “so it’s a real honour to get to be in something like this that creates space, and does so so authentically.”
The actor (and restaurateur) is stretched between two industries that have suffered greatly in the pandemic, but—with a Hallmark-worthy spirit—remains upbeat. “Both this global pandemic and the civil rights uprising that started in the United States and bled out to the rest of the world really changed not only the way I operate in my industries, but the way the industries themselves operate,” he says. “And even though there has been a ton of hardship, there is also the opportunity and the excitement to learn and to bring people along on these journeys of value development.” Say Mercy’s staff meal holiday initiative just launched, with contributions donated to Mamas for Mamas and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.
Christmas in Evergreen: Bells are Ringing is premiering in Canada on the W network on December 6—mark your calendars.