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The holiday season is defined by light, but it can also sometimes evoke feelings of darkness, from grief to loneliness to depression. In Victoria Rowell’s new Christmas movie, “Blackjack Christmas,” the writer, producer, actress and director said she was drawn to create a holiday film to hit both the dark and the bright.

“People need happiness,” Rowell said. “They need hope right now. There’s a lot of hope in this movie.”

“Blackjack Christmas,” which premiered this month on BET+, tells the story of Delores Johnson, a black woman in her 50s, played by Charmin Lee, who mourns the loss of her husband while also struggling with addiction to the game Motivated by her desire to win big, she reconnects with her estranged sister, Corrine Allen, played by Dawnn Lewis, in Jamaica, hoping for a place to stay so she can visit a local casino. Their reunification brings the sisters face-to-face with issues that plagued their relationship and puts her at risk for further damage and resentment.

Charmin Lee as Corrine Allen in “Blackjack Christmas”.BET+

“I wanted to talk about women, women of color, immigration and the isolation that comes with immigration, not just at Christmas, because the holidays are hard for a lot of people, even when families are functioning,” Rowell said .

Rowell, who grew up in foster care, said the inspiration for the film came from her guardian, Barbara Sterling, about whom she wrote in her 2007 memoir, “The Woman Who Raised Me.” Sterling, originally from Kingston, Jamaica, traveled to the United States and later became “a mainstay” in her life “and continues to be.” Rowell said she always “made Christmas so magical.”

Rowell said “Blackjack Christmas” is the third project she’s filmed in Jamaica, a place where she feels “very grounded.” Using a commercial DNA test, he discovered and connected with one of his relatives, a retired teacher, who lives on the island.

“Jamaica is very central to me,” Rowell said. “It is intrinsic to my personal being.”

Adam Lazarre-White as Graham Wilkes, Charmin Lee as Corrine Allen, Kyrie McAlpin as Marsha Matthews and Leigh-Ann Rose as Gloria Matthews in "Blackjack Christmas"Adam Lazarre-White as Graham Wilkes, Charmin Lee as Corrine Allen, Kyrie McAlpin as Marsha Matthews and Leigh-Ann Rose as Gloria Matthews in “Blackjack Christmas.”BET+

Some of the film’s main themes focus on the challenges of grief, colorism, and an issue that affects many families: addiction. Rowell said she has witnessed the damage of addiction through the loss of her nephew and seeing others struggle with it when she was in foster care. Her previous projects have also struggled with addiction, including her 2019 film “Jacqueline and Jilly,” on BET and ALLBLK.

Illustrated by the character of Delores with her own gambling addiction, Rowell said addicts can’t be forced into recovery, but a loved one can offer support and listen, like Delores’ family in the movie

Director Victoria Rowell.Director Victoria Rowell.Days Ferry Productions.

“It’s hard for people to talk about these personal matters, because we think they should be kept quiet and private,” Rowell said. “But we are only as sick as our secrets. So it is very important that we allow a safe space to talk about mental illness.”

With humorous and heartfelt moments, the film also touches on some positive changes in life, such as finding love again, mending broken relationships, and forgiving others. Rowell, whose career in entertainment spans nearly 50 years, said she also wanted to create more representation for more people who look like her. That’s why in many of her works, including “Blackjack Christmas,” she focuses on black women as central characters and shares their experiences.

“It’s important to me to see … black producers, in the newsrooms, at the networks, broadcasting, not just on camera, but behind the scenes,” Rowell said. “And so I will continue to create content that features and profiles people of color, especially African-Americans.”

Since its release, Rowell said the film has gotten positive feedback from groups like book clubs and sororities, which she calls “amazing.” With its PG rating, Rowell said his film also appeals to both older and younger audiences, with some viewers already suggesting a sequel.

“This is such a Christmas movie and people watch it over and over again,” Rowell said.

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Source: ‘Blackjack Christmas’ brings addiction and hope to the holidays