David E. Talbert, Director of Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, has written and directed a delightful musical with more black and brown faces than you typically see in a movie of its type. Talbert’s son inspired him to write the film after they started to watch one of his childhood favorites, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Let’s just say his son wasn’t feeling it.
“My son is looking at me like, what is wrong with this dude? And he asked if he could get up and play with his Legos? I said you don’t like the movie? He says, ‘mmmm.’ And as he walked away, I looked at him, and I looked at that screen. I’m like, oh, on his wall, he has Miles Morales and Black Panther. And that’s when it occurred to me. He didn’t do it because he didn’t see anybody that looked like him on that screen,” said Talbert.
That’s when Talbert approached Netflix about what happened with his son and the fact that there aren’t any holiday musical options with a majority of people of color. Scott Stuber, the head of original films at Netflix, agreed with him and decided they had to do something about it. So they did.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within.
Urban Faith talked with Talbert about his movie, its nods to the Black church, and advice he’d give to aspiring filmmakers of color.
David E. Talbert, Director of Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, on Magic Man G and the influence of African American culture and music.
It’s impressive that Netflix was so receptive to your Christmas movie vision as I’ve heard that Black filmmakers struggle with getting blockbuster-type movies made.
Well, we do, but you know, before Black Lives Matter, and the racial and political unrest, and the pandemic, there was a wave and a Renaissance that was happening. And you know, from Get Out that Jordan Peele did — you know, Black people never lived past five minutes in a horror movie. They paid us by the minute. But Jordan Peele broke the mold with that. And then Ryan Kyle Coogler with Black Panther. You can’t watch a Marvel movie unless you see, God rest his soul, Chadwick Boseman, his character, or the general or the little sister, you’ve gotta see them in those worlds now. And so those films normalized people, representation, and genres. And that’s what this film is doing, too. It’s normalizing people of color in worlds of wonder. And I think this Renaissance is happening, and Netflix knew that they were ahead of the curve. They knew that we not only wanted it as a Black community, but the world wants it, too. We’re number one in 23 countries worldwide, and we’re in the top 10 films in 70 countries around the world.
You’ve spoken about the nods to the Black Church in your movie. Did you grow up in the Black Church?
My great grandmother was one of the founding pastors of the Pentecostal movement in DC. — Pastor Annie Mae Woods. I grew up in a storefront church, three generations of holiness preachers I was raised under. And you know, I watched the Word of God change people’s lives. And just words moved people to tears, to reconciliation, to reform. In addition to that, there’s no better theater than the Black church. I mean, watching the sisters shout and then somebody tried to touch their purse, and they stopped mid-shout to get their purse. But it was a community full of heart and warmth and love and messaging, and meaning that moved me as a kid and stays with me as an adult.
How did those experiences shape you as a director?
Well, you write what you know. You write stories and pieces of stories you’re inspired by, that you grew up with. I mean, Jeronicus Jangle is the journey of Job. He had everything, lost everything, and he got everything back. He lost his faith, he lost his belief, he questioned God, he questioned himself, he’s like all of that. But it was a path, it was his journey to get back to what he had, and even more so. I’m not a religious person at all. I’m a proud member of bedside Baptist. But I’m spiritual. I’m not about religion; I’m about relationship more. But these things are in me. These are my part of my DNA. And so, I never do my art to preach to anybody, but the themes or lessons of morality will always be in there because that’s who I am.
Share more about the symbolism of Black culture and the Black Church in the movie.
The background dancers were the Pips in the Temptations, and the Four Tops and the Dramatics, and all those groups are grown men dancing and choreographed movement that we love. And with “Magic Man G,” that’s the Black church. I mean the shout music in there. It was like New Orleans. But that’s shout music up in Magic Man G. And then the emotion of this day and a spirit. And, you know, all of that is entrenched in African American music, soul music, music from the continent. In the snowball scene, that’s an artist from Ghana, Bisa Kdei. So, we just want to celebrate our music that we love, but that’s universal. The world loves our music. And so, I wasn’t shy about doing what moves me—and growing up in a Black church, this is the music that moved me.
What advice would you give for future filmmakers of color?
That all is possible, and don’t put yourself in a box. Don’t let anybody else put you in a box. You know, my grandmother told the story of what they did when she was growing up. She said that they took grasshoppers that used to jump six feet high into the air and put them in an old jelly jar. They would poke holes in the jelly jar and put a grasshopper in there. When they took the grasshopper out the next day, the grasshopper only jumped six inches because that’s all the room they had. The grasshopper then who could jump to the sky had been taught that he could only jump this high. And she told me that to say never forget how high you were created to soar. As artists and inventors and innovators, we can soar to the sky. Don’t let people put you in that jelly jar, poke holes in it, and then teach you that you can only soar six inches.
Where did Elijah go when he fled from Jezebel?
How many songs did King Solomon write?
Who was the first person in the Bible to bake a cake?
Answers on the tip of your tongue? Not so sure? Want to phone a friend? Every Tuesday, Meta Washington, Midday Host of Kirk Franklin’s Praise, SiriusXM Channel 64, keeps people on their top Bible game with trivia on her radio show. The popularity of the “Tuesday Trivia,” sprinkled in-between Gospel songs throughout the day on air, also inspired her to write “Bible Trivia Made Easy,” a themed book of bible questions with illustrations, photos.
“I knew it was a big thing when one time we had a famous artist who I would say was on and interviewing and a real big to do. And his interview was somehow placed over the time when I usually start asking the questions, and somebody said, ‘Is there going to be trivia today?’ And I thought, ‘Wow…alrighty,'” said Washington, who lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Washington says it started with just a few people responding but has grown so popular that she now has “Bible Scholars,” a mix of new people to the Word, along with ministers and Bishops. They interact with each other on her social media channels, cheering each other on.
“It’s a huge, big thing that people are doing,” said Washington. “People were saying, ‘Wow, I was so blessed because I didn’t understand much of the Word before.’ I let the people have some fun, take the tension out of it. I tell them, ‘Hey, don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t get it right. Consider the blessing. If you learn something new from the Word of God.”
Here’s how it works on her radio show. She’ll throw out a question, people will email her their answers, and she’ll call out the names on the air of those who got the answers right. Although her radio show listeners inspired the idea behind creating the Trivia book, she was also motivated by her personal experience in church Bible Study. Washington, a Brooklyn native whose family is from Barbados and Jamaica, grew up Episcopalian, but she moved to the Baptist church as an adult. An eager learner, she was dismayed to see how people were interested in hearing the pastor or Bible study teacher speak but were intimidated when asked to answer questions.
“They were worried that one of their church peers might realize or think, ‘They don’t really know. They’re not as close to God as I am because they don’t know as much about the Bible.’ So the pastor would ask questions, and people would sit there in dead silence. And I’m like, ‘Well, don’t you want to ask? Don’t you want to know?’ They were just afraid,” said Washington.
With that in mind, you might think the idea of being hit with a Bible trivia book could be equally as intimidating. But Washington’s book is a fun, and as its name states, easy read. The 300 questions came from six years of trivia on air. Washington says she attached a fun theme to each question, such as “Compose Yourself,” which appears right before the question about the number of songs King Solomon wrote,” to help people learn by association. And unlike many other trivia books, her book is organized by sections and topics and not skill level, such as beginner, intermediate, or expert.
“The Bible isn’t written like that, and I don’t do it like that on the air. You learn it as you receive it. And I think to try to dumb it down for people doesn’t help them. While you’re participating, you are learning, and you’ll be surprised, you know the more complex parts of the Bible as well as the parts that are, yeah, they’re easy.”
Washington also has a book in development called “On the Third Day,” which includes pictures of nature she’s taken over the years that appear to tell scripture stories.
“Generally, we talk about ‘on the third day’ Jesus rose, but on the third day, God created trees and plants, and all of what we know is nature. And I said, ‘It has its own story to tell.’ And in this book, I am allowing nature to tell its story in its way,” said Washington. “I have an image of a type of plant that looks like flames. It looks like little fur, and I have a patch that’s all red, and it looks like flames. I had the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are in the fiery furnace. I had the scripture there, you have the picture, and you can see the imagery.”
Even with the newly themed picture book on the horizon, Washington’s still focused on trivia, too. She self-published Bible Trivia Made Easy in September 2020 on Amazon.com, and there is a new edition on the way. Yet even with her good intentions of just wanting to help people, there have been a few naysayers. One listener accused her of making fun of the Word of God, telling her to just stick to the music.
“I don’t want the listeners ever to think that I am making trivial of the Word of God when I say trivia. Bible trivia is meant to help people. It’s one thing to memorize Psalm 23 and be able just to regurgitate it back. But when you learn something new after you have been studying the Word for more than ten years, that’s the real knowledge and the nugget there.”
Trivia Question Answers:
Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:3-8)
King Solomon wrote 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:29-34)
Sarah was the first person to bake a cake in the Bible. (Genesis 18:6)
CeCe Winans released a new album in March called “Believe For It,” and she debuted a few songs at her first live, virtual special called “An Evening of Thanksgiving,” which aired in February.
Compassion International, a Christian ministry aimed at finding sponsors for children worldwide, has partnered with Winans for the event. She’s also a strong supporter of their work and has sponsored a few children herself. It’s a fitting partnership, given new songs are meant to encourage people, and that’s how she sees the work of Compassion.
“I get excited about partnering with organizations that are doing something that brings life, and Compassionate International does that. They make a difference, and they put a smile on kids’ faces who otherwise wouldn’t have hope. They bring hope,” says Winans. “They bring peace, food, water, clothing, and education. They give them something that will enhance their life, not just for a moment.”
I had an opportunity to chat with CeCe about her new songs, the virtual event, and her son taking on a new leadership role in their church.
You’ve had so much music success. Can you share what’s unique in the new music that’s coming out? What can fans look forward to?
It’s my first live record, and it’s music that encourages you to sing along. I think that’s something that people can look forward to. I’m doing a lot of songs that maybe you’ve heard before, maybe not, but I know that a lot of people have sung them in their churches. I wanted to create something that people and churches and everybody could sing along with. So it’s definitely a CD that’s filled with praise and celebration. Everybody needs some hope right now.
Tell us about the creative process during the making of your new album.
I’ve always determined songs by how they’ve ministered to me. I believe that if it hits my heart, it’s going to hit other people’s hearts. But the title of the record is called “Believe For It.” And this was the last song that came in when we decided we had all of our songs, but we felt something was missing. We really liked it [the album], but it seemed like we needed something else with the theme or something that will kind of, I don’t know, just put us in the frame of mind that we need to be in.
And my producers, Kyle Lee and Dwan Hill, got together, and they started writing with another young man, and they came back, and they played one song for me, and it was a good song. And I was like, that’s good, but that’s not it. And we kept going because, again, we had a strong record already, but we all kind of agreed that we needed something else. Another part of the puzzle was missing. And then they came with the song, Believe For It. And when I heard it — that’s it! That’s it! We all agreed, and I even did some writing on it to finish it up. But it is just the message of hope that everyone needs to hear. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. You need to brush yourself off, brush those dreams off and start to believe again.
You’re so passionate about the work of Compassion International. Have you ever sponsored a child?
I’ve been sponsoring kids for years. And you go into this thinking you’re going to be a blessing to them, and you WILL be a blessing to them, but it ends up coming back to your life in so many ways. I know my kids are blessed.
Giving blesses your life. When I went to visit some of these kids years ago, and I saw the level of poverty that they lived in, first of all, my heart was just broken. I mean, they walk miles and miles for dirty water, contaminated water. I’m talking 10 miles.
And then you see where they live. And the first thing you realize is, “What am I complaining about? Why do I have to complain about anything?” They had this joy on their faces. And so when I came home years ago, I told my kids, “Oh no, no, no. We are going to live our lives differently.” And they were probably looking at me like, “Mom, what are you talking about?” You have to live a whole different way. Because of that, I know I’ve been blessed. I get excited about compassionlive.com. I pray that everybody will tune in, but not just tuning in, go and sponsor a child because even coming out of 2020, people who are brokenhearted, people who have lost their job, people who need major blessings in their lives, I’m telling you the way to break through is to give.
I understand your son is taking on more of a leadership role in your church, Nashville Life Church in Nashville, TN. What does that mean to you personally and to your family?
My husband and I started this church eight years ago, and it was birthed really through my son and his friends. When we started, it was all millennials, and our church is filled with millennials. And then my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Really, God? You want us to pastor?” We’re like, “Okay, here we go.” But my son started with all of his friends, and God just did work in my son’s heart. And he started witnessing and getting people to feel with the Holy Spirit. Leading people, should I say, to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
It started in my home with 35 people. And the Lord told my husband when we started eight years ago that my son would pastor. So we were the founding pastors, and my son has been pastoring along with us all of these years. The transition that we made three weeks ago is him being lead pastor, and now we’re the founding pastors. It’s just exciting because even within those three weeks, it’s like growth is happening the way he’s anointed to do it. And my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Wow, thank God. We at least carried it for eight years.” We didn’t make it work. We knew that we were in the will of God doing what we did, but we knew it was always about him and this generation.
It’s not like we’re retiring, but we are definitely in the background encouraging, pushing him, and just covering him. It’s exciting to see and not only him, but all the young people, our staff, are taking it over, and they’re the Joshua generation. It’s time.
I was three months pregnant and working as a Web editor in New York City at iVillage.com when tragedy struck at the World Trade Center buildings. That particular morning, I had scheduled a prenatal appointment before going in to work. A mere few minutes after hearing my son’s heartbeat for the first time, a nurse burst into the room and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The doctor and I were puzzled, but we figured it was some random accident by a confused pilot in a small private plane.
But after I left the doctor’s office, I realized what happened was no accident. When I first arrived at work, I learned that another plane had hit a second building. And these planes didn’t hit just any buildings — they made the World Trade Center buildings burn down in the most depressingly spectacular way. The entire staff was crowded around a small TV and quickly became very emotional. No one knew all the details, and my coworkers were telling fantastic stories, such as eight hijacked planes were circling all across the country. When I heard a plane hit the Pentagon, it became personal. My brother-in-law worked across from the Pentagon at the time. I couldn’t help it; the tears started to flow. The fear and sadness were overwhelming.
Fortunately for my coworkers and me, our company had a corporate apartment in the city. Most of us lived in Burroughs outside of Manhattan, and all the trains and busses were shut down. Around 15-20 of us squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment, but at least we had a place to go. That said, we still had to get there, which required a long, sad 17-block walk from upper Manhattan towards downtown and the direction of “Ground Zero,” which was the destroyed World Trade Center site’s former name. As we walked, we passed by several first responders, all covered in ash. Everything was covered in ash. Once in the apartment, we saw a hospital right outside the window. Several medical workers were clearly on high alert outside, waiting to take in survivors — but the slew of patients in need was far lower than expected. I called my husband. He never left Brooklyn, where we lived. He started work later than me and was standing on the train station platform waiting to board when he saw one of the buildings go down. A lady on the platform with him fainted.
The next day, I was so afraid to take in the air, fearful of its effect on my unborn son. It took me more than a year before I braved going down there, still afraid of what was in the air and how it might affect my breastmilk. It turns out that it was a smart move. We all know about the many 9/11 heroes who suffered from complications due to the poor air quality. When I was finally able to catch the train home, I saw flyers posted by loved ones desperately seeking information asking about missing people. The entire city was in mourning.
My son is now 19-years-old and has grown into a young man. I’ve made sure to tell him about that day and those who we lost. I know that I am Blessed. For so many people, that painful day stole their children, parents, and loved ones. I saw firsthand the devastation and the deep wound inside the hearts of New Yorkers. I realize that 9/11 affected all Americans differently, but even amidst this ongoing and insufferable pandemic, we owe the victims and their families a moment of recognition and remembrance. I’m heartened by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Tomorrow is not promised. We must #NeverForget.