Netflix’s ‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ Is Director David E. Talbert’s Gift That Keeps On Giving

“Everyone hadn’t really realized that there was no representation in the holidays of anyone of color.”

‘Tis the season to be jolly and to be seen and represented. And that’s exactly what David E.Talbert’s new holiday film Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is achieving by tackling both concepts as the festive season kicks off. Known for his movies Almost Christmas and Baggage Claim, Talbert will bring his first Christmas musical starring Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Phylicia Rashad and a diverse cast to spread a little holiday cheer. 

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Teaming up with Netflix, the screenwriter and director brings the whimsical Yuletide movie to the streaming service for an inclusive experience.“Everyone hadn’t really realized that there was no representation in the holidays of anyone of color,” said Talbert. “And this is a film that would do that.”

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Premiering in 191 countries around the world and translated into 32 different languages, Jingle Jangle is on “the canvas that we needed to paint [it] on,” said Talbert. “The world campus.” 

Sitting down with, the award-winning screenwriter gives us an in-depth view of what it was like to create a part of history  with the first original live-action holiday musical with a primarily Black cast.

(David Talbert and Madalen Mills/Courtesy of Netflix)
(David Talbert and Madalen Mills/Courtesy of Netflix) This is Netflix’s first original live-action musical. Why do you think they chose this project to be the first? 

David E. Talbert: I think it was just the right time; timing is everything. I’ve been developing this project for 20 years, but it wasn’t until I became a father when  I tried to sit down with my son a few years ago and showed him some of my childhood favorites like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Willy Wonka and he wanted no part of it. I’m singing the happiest, whitest songs ever and he wasn’t interested. I realized that he wanted to see somebody on the screen that looked like him. 

He had more options than I had when I was growing up, and that’s when I went to Netflix and said, ‘There are people of color around the world who love the holidays, but there are  no films that represent them with anyone who looks like them.’ It took you 20 years to make this film, and the journey was worth it. Why do you think it took so long to get Jingle Jangle made?

David E. Talbert: First of all, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I kept trying to get the music right and the story right. I was going to do it for the stage and it wasn’t until a few years ago, after showing [Chitty Chitty Bang Bang] to my son, my wife said, ‘Why not do it as a movie?’ And that’s when it took off. It just needed a bigger canvas. The one central  theme in the film and that’s magic. Was Christmas a magical time for you as a child? Was there a special holiday memory that helped you tie together Jingle Jangle?

David E. Talbert: My most vivid memories of my childhood were watching films where people were flying and creating things. It was Mary Poppins, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I remember going into the mall with my mother when I was young and I thought every little white kid could fly or was magical because that’s all I saw. It’s important to have a film that represents people of color in this magical, whimsical, wondrous world so that the people growing up can see themselves flying and being magical.

(Madalen Mills and Forest Whitaker/Courtesy of Netflix)
(Madalen Mills and Forest Whitaker/Courtesy of Netflix) Your wife Lyn Sisson-Talbert was heavily involved in the film. What was her contribution and what was it like working together on this project?

David E. Talbert: She’s the lead producer on the film. She has been producing my plays ever since we’ve been married. She was a senior in college when we met and she started producing my plays with me and elevating aesthetics. Then  she went to executive producing movies with me and now this is the first time she’s the lead producer. 

She is my brain trust; somebody I can lean on and just give [her] a look, and in that look, she tells me if my idea is "hot or not." It is always good to have someone that is your biggest fan but also your boldest critic.

(Phylicia Rashad/Courtesy of Netflix)
(Phylicia Rashad/Courtesy of Netflix)  How were you able to enlist music from Ricky Martin, Usher, John Legend, and others for the film?  Do you feel like you accomplished the perfect sound? 

David E. Talbert: It's all soulful. It's all rhythmic. It's all love. Ricky Martin's music is about unity, love, togetherness, dance, fun, excitement, and celebration. Usher has always been about big dance, big performance, big celebration. And then we brought in John Legend. It was vital for me to do something that represents what the world looks like. We are a world community. The entertainment industry was hit hard by the coronavirus, but projects are now being released. How have you coped with it?  

David E. Talbert: We were running so fast before this thing hit, that and for so many, it forced us  to be still. And what I discovered having to work on this  film almost remotely is stillness, there was this momentum that I didn’t expect. By slowing down, I moved a lot faster as far as being able to hear, being open to receive, my senses were open. 

This project, I think it gave us a chance to evolve more than it ever would. Because not only did I slow down, everyone working on [the film] slowed down.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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