BET+’s So Fly Christmas: What Christmas Means To Producer Marc Johnson
Amidst the festive activities of decorating trees, sipping eggnog, singing carols, baking cookies, and exchanging gifts with friends and family, Christmas has always been synonymous with watching a plethora of holiday movies for Producer Marc Johnson.
Johnson explains that during his youth, 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. Coming of age, 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 Century has shown progress in incorporating diversity into what he terms “yuletide cinema.” Movies such as The Last Holiday, The Perfect Holiday, and The Best Man Holiday have made notable strides in this regard.
Excitingly, in 2023, BET+ is contributing to this change by releasing twelve original films, including SO FLY CHRISTMAS, which Johnson produced 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 Wyvetta by forming a “Done with Love” pact in which they both renounce romance. The plot thickens when Dione secretly falls for Clarence (Robert Christopher Riley), a gentle music store proprietor. Johnson sees SO FLY CHRISTMAS to be an exemplary classic, though as a producer of the film, he acknowledges his bias.
In a recent interview, Johnson was asked about the role of a producer. He responded, “If you watch the opening titles and end credits, the producers have hired, interacted with, oversaw the work of, and paid each and every person listed.” He adds, “But it’s more than that, really, the producers find and/or develop the script, get the financing and distribution, then hire the talent and crew.
Johnson states that if a production wants diversity, then it’s incumbent on the producers to make sure that happens. In the case of SO FLY CHRISTMAS, the script called for an African-American cast. This commitment to diversity was also reflected in his production team, with many department heads being people of color.
Johnson adds, “An often overlooked aspect of diversity in a film is the selection of locations.” The production team chose Atlantic City, NJ, for SO FLY CHRISTMAS for several reasons. “First, 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, “Second, South New Jersey offers attractive tax credits for projects with diverse casts and crews. Last, the city’s predominantly African-American community, led by Mayor Marty Small, provided tremendous support. They welcomed us with open arms, and assisted us in getting maximum value for the money spent.”
Further, Johnson expressed that working with world-class actors, an accomplished crew on an emotionally impactful script is magical. Even after countless viewings, So Fly Christmas still brings a tear to his eye.
In SO FLY CHRISTMAS, for a literary What Christmas Means to Me collection, Laurissa Romain’s character ‘Sierra’, Dione’s daughter, writes in an essay: Christmas has never been about what you do or what you get. It’s about the people that make this time of year so special.
When asked what Christmas means to him, Johnson responded, “It’s a time to come together and share our stories. I’d like to think that filmmakers and TV creators dedicated to producing inclusive, quality holiday fare are part of what makes this time of year so special.