Holiday movie season is officially on at the Hallmark Channel, and it continues today with An Unexpected Christmas. The film follows a recently broken-up couple -- Jamie and Emily (played by Tyler Hines and Bethany Joy Lenz) -- as they pretend to still be together for Jamie's family.
Of course, shenanigans ensue, love is found, and family bonds are strengthened throughout the film. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner Kersee even makes her film debut. And while a straight couple might be the protagonists in the movie, it's definitely more queer than meets the eye.
For one, the movie's planning started at Los Angeles's famous gay bar the Abbey. It was there that An Unexpected Christmas's gay executive producer, Matthew Brady, met out writer Greg McGoon, who came up with the story. Hallmark star Paul Campbell came on to write the script.
"Hallmark has really been embracing diversity in the last couple of years," Brady told The Advocate. With the support of Hallmark Channel executive Ayse Francis, Campbell and Brady developed an out lesbian character for the film, Becca, played by Alison Wandzura.
"[Becca] ended up be a lot of our favorite character in the film," Brady said. She's a single parent who adopted a child on her own and she's living with her parents. Brady describes Becca as "smart" and "coy."
"She just is really relatable," he said.
It was the character's personality and story that got Wandzura so interested in playing her, Wandzura said. "It's just really refreshing to see something outside of the usual nuclear family model," Wandzura explained. "I think a lot of that shows up around the Christmas holidays. And most of us don't really connect with that perfect nuclear family."
The film even sets up what looks to be a start of a potential lesbian romance between Becca and another character.
Wandzura told The Advocate, "I take the responsibility seriously of playing a queer character because I know that in television and movies in the past, sometimes that community tends to be represented in a really stereotypical way."
Wandzura praised the producers and writers on the film for caring about Becca's story. "It's not like we're making a big deal out of it. This is just people. This is how people are. There's lots of people like this."
An Unexpected Christmas, Wandzura explained, is a movie that can bring families together.
"When I think about it from a personal standpoint, my mom is someone who likes to watch television that's not kind of confronting or threatening," Wandzura said. Her mother likes the feel-good content. "I find that whenever I go home for the holidays, my mom and I always watch movies [like An Unexpected Christmas] together."
Actor Tyler Hynes said he was thrilled to see Becca's story in the script. "I was very happy to see that, and I love the way that it was just sort of integrated into the story," Hynes said. "It wasn't something that was treated as some sort of novelty or treated frivolously it was just a character was a real human being and, should be represented in these movies."
Costar Bethany Joy Lenz echoed the need for representation. She told The Advocate, "It's really, really important that we, as artists, highlight the experiences and perspectives of people from all walks of life. Because the easiest way to create division is to dehumanize someone else because of something inside of you that doesn't understand something inside of them."
Lenz added that it was great to be part of a film featuring characters that aren't seen a lot yet.
"I'm glad that we're seeing a shift right now in our culture, because empathizing with someone who's different from us, actually helps bring us all closer together," Lenz said. "I'm grateful to be a part of anything that's doing that."
Watch the trailer for An Unexpected Christmas below and catch the premiere on November 26 at 8 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel.