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A Look At The Hanukkah Movies On The Hallmark And Lifetime Channels

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

While Christmas is in the rearview mirror, we are still in the middle of Hanukkah. Tonight is the fifth night, and for people who enjoy holiday movies on Hallmark and Lifetime, this year, there are a few Hanukkah movies in the mix. That's the good news. The bad news - we'll let Maura Judkis of The Washington Post break it to you.

Hi, Maura.

MAURA JUDKIS: Hi.

SHAPIRO: OK, what's the bad news?

JUDKIS: Well, the bad news is that these are actually Christmas movies that just feature Hanukkah as a plot device, mostly.

SHAPIRO: What do you mean by that? Give us an example.

JUDKIS: Well, so all of them kind of hinge on people who have a big Christmas celebration coming up. And then all of a sudden, they discover, like - oh, no. Like, someone in my circle is Jewish. What am I going to do to include them?

SHAPIRO: Oh, no. There's a Jew in the mix.

JUDKIS: Right. Exactly. And so, you know, that's pretty problematic.

SHAPIRO: Right. So I guess - I haven't watched these films in full, but the trappings of Hanukkah are treated as kind of, like, exotic, bizarre traditions.

JUDKIS: Yeah. I think part of the problem is that people try to equate it with Christmas. It's like, oh, we light candles, too. We have lights. We give each other presents, and we spend time with our families, except everything is blue instead of red and green.

SHAPIRO: We have a clip of this. It's from one of the movies, called "Mistletoe And Menorahs." Tell us what this is about.

JUDKIS: So this is a Lifetime movie about a woman named Christy - sounds like Christmas - who makes toys. So, I mean, they're really laying it on thick here. And she has to land a big client but then discovers that he's Jewish. And so when she goes to his big holiday party, she realizes she needs to learn everything about the Hanukkah traditions in just a few days.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISTLETOE AND MENORAHS")

KELLEY JAKLE: (As Christy Dickinson) What am I going to do? I know nothing about Hanukkah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) So what? It's not about Hanukkah. It's about showing David you're the best person to handle his account.

JAKLE: (As Christy Dickinson) Not when I made such a big deal about being an expert. I'm not a Hanukkah expert.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You know what? There's a way around this.

JUDKIS: She actually Googles the word Hanukkah and then looks at the Google image results and sees a menorah but does not click on any results to actually learn what it means or what it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISTLETOE AND MENORAHS")

JAKLE: (As Christy Dickinson) There's candles involved and some sort of jelly donuts.

SHAPIRO: So holiday movies from Lifetime and Hallmark have never been especially nuanced or sensitive. Does it matter if they treat Judaism as some kind of bizarre, exotic rarity?

JUDKIS: You know, I think it matters because everyone loves a feel-good romantic holiday movie. And if these had been good, they would have been a nice nod towards inclusivity. But instead, they sort of bend over backwards to include Jewish people to the point of offensiveness because they just presume that everyone is stupid. Like, they think that Jews know nothing about Christmas. And so, like, in this movie "Double Holiday," they have to teach this one Jewish woman how to decorate a Christmas tree and, like, where to buy a Christmas tree.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOUBLE HOLIDAY")

KRISTOFFER POLAHA: (As Chris) There's a hole, a giant hole. Look at this. You got to step back a little bit. You got to take a look at the whole tree.

JUDKIS: You know, I think most people are aware of, like, how a Christmas tree works.

SHAPIRO: You point out in your Washington Post article that even beyond tackling Jewish traditions, the holiday movie industrial complex is not exactly known for its open-mindedness.

JUDKIS: Yeah. You know, Hallmark only introduced black leads in its movies last year, which is kind of insane.

SHAPIRO: To be fair, beyond Hallmark and Lifetime, there are not many good Hanukkah movies in the world. Is there a bigger problem here?

JUDKIS: So there aren't that many Hanukkah movies that are really about Hanukkah. You know, other Lifetime movies and Hallmark movies have been kind of along this thread where they've been Christmas movies that have been about Hanukkah. Hanukkah movies tend to be, like, the Adam Sandler movie "Eight Crazy Nights." There's something called "Full-Court Miracle," which is a Disney movie that, I think, equates a basketball team to the Maccabees. So that - you know, there are that many holiday movies about Hanukkah, and so I think a lot of people were really excited about these ones, hoping that they could kind of fill that niche. And they've really sort of fallen flat.

SHAPIRO: You imagine what a Hallmark or Lifetime Hanukkah movie could look like if done well. I mean, what's your dream here?

JUDKIS: (Laughter) I mean, I think maybe they could do, like, a "Love Actually"-style movie, but all of the characters end up together, like, in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas, and then they go to a movie. Something a little bit more realistic - you know, no hired fake boyfriends or big accounts.

SHAPIRO: Just families fighting around the table - I suppose that's universal. Well, there's always next year.

JUDKIS: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Maura Judkis of The Washington Post, thank you, and happy Hanukkah.

JUDKIS: Thank you. You, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "8 DAYS (OF HANUKKAH)")

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: (Singing) Days of love, days of - eight days of Hanukkah... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.