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BET’s So Fly Christmas: Producer Marc Johnson And The Evolution Of Holiday Film Traditions

Amidst the festive activities of decorating trees, sipping eggnog, singing carols, baking cookies, and exchanging gifts, Christmas has always been synonymous with watching a plethora of holiday movies for tv producer Marc Johnson.

Excitingly, in 2023, BET+ is contributing to this change by releasing twelve original films, including “SO FLY CHRISTMAS,” which I have had the pleasure of producing alongside Pierre Romain and Julie Solanger. “SO FLY CHRISTMAS” revolves around Wyvetta (portrayed by Tichina Arnold), who is abandoned at her Christmas Eve wedding. Her closest friend and podcast co-host, Dione (Tami Roman), supports her by vowing to give up on love. However, the plot thickens when Dione secretly falls for Clarence (Robert Christopher Riley), a gentle music store proprietor. As a producer, Johnson sees “SO FLY CHRISTMAS” to be an exemplary classic, though he acknowledges his bias.

Johnson explains that during hi younger years, classic films like “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” were the norm. However, the presence of diverse characters was limited, with Franklin Armstrong in “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” being a rare example. Growing up, this lack of diversity in holiday movies made Johnson feel somewhat disillusioned, akin to the Grinch.

But Johnson is now enthused about how the 21st has shown progress in incorporating diversity into holiday cinema. Movies such as “The Last Holiday,” “The Perfect Holiday,” and “The Best Man Holiday” have made notable strides in this regard. Despite this, they still represent a small portion of the predominantly white-centric holiday films shown on mainstream television.

In a recent interview, Johnson was asked about the role of a producer. His response was that producers are deeply involved in every aspect of a film, from hiring and managing the crew to overseeing the budget and distribution. “Our role extends beyond the logistical to the creative process, including script development and casting,” Johnson stated.

As an African-American producer, Marc Johnson has advocated for diversity in filmmaking. For “SO FLY CHRISTMAS,” Johnson ensured a predominantly African-American cast, featuring talents like Tichina Arnold, Tami Roman, Robert Christopher Riley, Tommy Davidson, Laurissa Romain, Jackee Harry, Michael Colyar, and Darien Sills-Evans. This commitment to diversity was also reflected in his production team, with many department heads being people of color.

Location selection was another crucial aspect of promoting diversity in films. Johnson stated how the production team chose Atlantic City, NJ, for “SO FLY CHRISTMAS” for several reasons. “Firstly, prior to the COVID pandemic, I had scouted this location for a different project that was eventually shelved. The Showboat Hotel on the Boardwalk had offered an incredible package suitable for film production,” said the seasoned producer. Johnson continued, ”Secondly, South New Jersey offers attractive tax credits for projects with diverse casts and crews. Lastly, the city’s predominantly African-American community, led by Mayor Marty Small, provided tremendous support, making our filming experience invaluable.”

Johnson acknowledged how the joy of working with world-class actors, combined with the emotional impact of the film, even after numerous viewings, is truly indescribable and deeply rewarding.

In the film, Laurissa Romain’s character, Sierra, pens an essay for a “What Christmas Means to Me” collection, stating that Christmas is not about the materialistic aspects but about the people who make the season special.

Johnson makes it plain how he firmly believes that filmmakers and TV creators dedicated to producing diverse, quality holiday content are instrumental in making the holiday season truly magical.

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