LGBTQ issues

Why the gay Christmas movie ‘A Holiday I Do’ could make TV history

The Daily Beast

July 15, 2020

No Lifetime or Hallmark Christmas movie has yet featured a same-sex central couple. With Jane and Sue in “A Holiday I Do,” film-maker Alicia Schneider could make screen history.

Jane is a farmer in rural Michigan and a single lesbian mom, about to be the “best woman” for her ex-husband who is planning a Christmas wedding to his new bride. They remain best friends.

A woman called Sue is his wedding planner, but he doesn’t have much time to plan anything, so leaves the wedding cake tasting and everything else to Jane. And when Jane and Sue’s eyes meet, the real romance begins.

A Holiday I Do is yet another feel-good Christmas movie, but it could make history as the first one on Hallmark or Lifetime—if either network accepts it, as its makers hope—with a same-sex couple as its central romantic coupling.

Last year, the production company Tello made history with the Christmas movie Season of Love—featuring a trio of queer women’s holiday love stories as its focus. Tello will follow it up this year with another queer-themed holiday movie, I Hate New Years.

In A Holiday I Do, Jane—played by Ali Liebert­—and Sue will kiss at the end, and with no fading to black or camera cutaways, The Daily Beast is assured. Yes, there is snow, and there are copious Christmas lights, scarves, and gloves. And a super-happy, super-gay ending.

Film-maker Alicia Schneider is in talks with Netflix to buy the movie, although she isn’t ruling out Hallmark or Lifetime—the traditional showcases for Christmas movies—as the film’s eventual home. She was inspired to make it, she told The Daily Beast, because of the 70 Christmas movies made last year, not one featured an LGBTQ central coupling.

She decided to make A Holiday I Do after reading The Daily Beast article about Lifetime’s 2019 Christmas movie Twinkle All the Way, which featured a gay couple and kiss—although its couple were not lead characters. Netflix’s Let it Snow also featured a queer romance, as Autostraddle’s Drew Gregory wrote.

Hallmark and Lifetime did not return Daily Beast requests for comment before this story was published.

After this story was published, Hallmark announced 18 of the estimated 40 holiday movies that they will produce by year-end. A spokesperson told The Daily Beast, “Of those 40, I can confirm that we will include LGBTQ storylines, characters and actors. We are in active negotiations and look forward to announcing more details when we can.”

The spokesperson did not respond to a question seeking clarity on whether any of those LGBTQ characters were central characters, carrying the central romance of the movie.

Whatever LGBTQ production intrigues there are in this world of hot chocolates and stolen glances, filming for A Holiday I Do will happen in November in Saugatuck, Michigan, a popular destination for LGBTQ vacationers, with the film slated for release in November 2021.

It will cost an estimated $90,000 to make, for which Schneider has launched a Kickstarter fundraising drive. At least 10 percent of all film proceeds will benefit causes that help LGBTQ+ youth, such as The Trevor Project.

“Every December 1st I am ready to watch Christmas movies. I look forward to Christmas movies every single year,” said Schneider, who is bisexual. “I read your article, and thought, ‘This is good, everybody wants this. Let’s freaking do it.’”

On why there have been no LGBTQ-couple centered Christmas movies so far, Schneider said, “People are scared of the backlash. They’re afraid of jumping into the genre, especially networks like Hallmark and Lifetime. They call these films ‘family-friendly.’ But LGBTQ people are ‘family-friendly.’ We come from families. We are families. This genre should include us. It’s just that previously people have a very exclusionary idea of what ‘family-friendly’ means.”

When Schneider posted on social media about her plans to make the movie, comments “kept coming back to Christmas being about Jesus, and Christians getting together to mark the birth of Christ. Many Christians do not believe LGBTQ people are welcome in this space. They’re not shy about letting us know that. They want us to know we’re not welcome.

“That is why we are calling A Holiday I Do a ‘Christmas movie,’ not a ‘holiday movie,’ because a lot of LGBTQ people do celebrate it as a Christian holiday. My dad was a pastor, my sister is a pastor’s wife. This is something that’s very close to me. I celebrate Christmas as a gay woman. I wanted this film to be something I am familiar with.”

The formula of A Holiday I Do is the same as every Christmas movie before it. “Our goal is to make a fun-loving, cookie-cutter Christmas movie, where it just so happens that it’s two women falling in love, instead of a man and woman.” It seems absurd that this should even count as radical and history-making in 2020.

Schneider and her sister traditionally kick off their Christmas movie watching the day after Thanksgiving. Her favorite, cheesiest one is 12 Dates of Christmas, starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar of Saved by the Bell fame, which is “so bad it’s amazing.”

But it doesn’t really matter if a Christmas movie is bad. As a fan, Schneider loves that they are “so predictable and I love that I already know what is going to happen by the end of the film. I know all will work out, and I can just sit down and eat Christmas cookies and enjoy it.”

A Holiday I Do follows the formula too: one main character is from the big city, the other from a small country town. They fall for each other, then something happens to tear them apart, and then some Christmas magic brings them back together… until the final kiss. The camera will cut-away to a mantelpiece elf, decked in rainbow stockings and scarves. The script was written in three weeks.

It was important for Schneider that Jane’s story is not a coming-out story; she is fine with who she is. When she meets Sue for the first time—one of several meet-cutes—she’s hungover and looking a mess (but obviously totally adorable).

A secondary storyline sees her in peril of losing the family farm. Her neighbors are a Christian farming family who have known Jane since she was a little girl. They are “totally into Christmas,” and love Jane and help her and Sue find their way to each other. Jane’s sexuality, said Schneider and screenwriter Melinda Bryce, is not an issue—just as heterosexual couples in Christmas movies do not have to explain or agonize over theirs.

Bryce said she had “never been more excited for a project.” She thinks the audience for Christmas movies is becoming more diverse and broader—and Christmas movies more secular. “Networks should realize they would reach a bigger audience if they were more inclusive.”

Bryce said the film shared all the same beats as other Christmas movies. Before embarking on this project, she says, she had never realized how many Christmas movies had weddings and wedding planners.

The lesbian central characters fit into the formula, though the fact one is such close friends with her husband gives it a slight edge. But otherwise expect accidental meetings right from the first coffee spill-eyes meet encounter, sleigh rides, and Jane’s 8-year-old daughter, who—like so many kids on film these days—is an old soul who knows more than every adult around her. She has a storyline too: to be true to herself, or do what is expected of her.

Saugatuck will Christmas-decorate the town early to make sure no scene is left without twinkle. Schneider is confident that there will be snow on the ground. But if there isn’t, a snow machine will be at hand, “which, even if there is snow, we may use anyway.”

“I would absolutely love to see it on Hallmark or Lifetime, so it can be in that space,” said Schneider. “But we have to be realistic and understand they will probably not love what we are doing. We would love to see it on a mainstream channel, but if they come back to us and say, ‘We want this, but please make it less gay,’ we won’t be going down that road.”

What if they produce an LGBTQ Christmas movie before Schneider produces hers, this reporter asked.

“That would be amazing,” Schneider said. “I hope there are 100 gay Christmas films in the works. I hope we have competition. That would mean more representation. There’s a shift happening. LGBTQ community is becoming more accepted. If this is ever going to happen, now is the time, so we’ve gotta jump quick.”

Bryce is straight, and knows the responsibility of writing this film. She has many LGBTQ friends and friends with trans children. She is excited to write it, and to do so alongside the bisexual Schneider, seeing the process as a “dialogue.”

The film is being made at a time when the Trump administration has made a mission of attacking LGBTQ rights and equality, particularly trans people—and, like most Christmas movies, A Holiday I Do is more froth than social realism.

“It’s an escape,” said Bryce. “But it is important that LGBTQ people see themselves on screen in this space, and feel supported and seen. We want teenagers to be able to see it. Also, Christmas can be a tough time for LGBTQ people, in difficult family situations where they may have been rejected. The film’s ultimate message is the very opposite of that, with a lesbian couple center stage.

Bryce hopes that A Holiday I Do marks a turning point in the genre. “We need to see diverse representation in these films—whether we will not I don’t know. The biggest thing is that when they do start making these films they do it right. So, show the full-on kiss. Do it with full intention.”

So, what about the climactic Jane-Sue kiss in A Holiday I Do?

“They will kiss and it will be amazing and full-on, I swear,” said Bryce. “It’s the pinnacle of the film. And then we’ll see Santa and reindeer shoot across the sky. The interesting thing is, the beginning of that scene is Jane’s ex-husband and his new bride at their wedding, and if anything, we cut away from their kiss to Jane and Sue—and the big kiss.”

But how to get that kiss right, when filming in an age of COVID?

“It’s something the whole entertainment industry is dealing with,” said Schneider in an email. “We are keeping an eye on the virus as months progress and will follow any SAG-AFTRA actor’s union regulations at the time of filming. (We hope the masses can do their part and that numbers vastly improve in six months.) Luckily, the kiss will likely be filmed in January so that gives us even more time for conditions to improve.

“There are clever ‘movie magic’ split-screen editing techniques where we can make actors look like they are nose to nose, without them even being near each other when filmed. That helps with most social distancing situations, but the kiss is still the hard part, right? One of our backup plans is to do a last-minute pickup shot of the kiss, even if we have to fly Ali Liebert’s love interest in the film to Vancouver days before we premiere in 2021! One way or another we are going to get the magical kiss on screen, but do it safely and comfortably for all involved.”

“This is Jane and Sue’s story. Their kiss is the kiss,” said Bryce. “There will be fireworks. The camera will stay on them. I will make sure of it. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”