Nazneen Contractor is making history as being the first South Asian to lead a Hallmark movie. The Christmas Ring airs on Hallmark Channel on November 7th at 10 PM EST and on the W Network on November 15th at 7 PM EST. In an exclusive chat she shares with us her thoughts on breaking such a barrier, the importance of BIPOC voices and why she wanted to make this film for her mom.
Folks, the holiday season is officially upon us!
Do you know what that means?!
Article by DEVIKA GOBERDHAN | SHOWBIZ
It means that we can now all safely go on social media and browse through programming on television without the risk of being scared senseless by Halloween posts (it can’t just be me — don’t judge)!
The holidays are one of my favourite times of the year, largely because it means that I get to indulge in the most cheesy and melt-your-heart Hallmark holiday movies.
This year, the annual holiday festivities began on October 24 and will include approximately 40 movies between the Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas 2020” movies and the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ “Miracles of Christmas 2020” movies. One particular film my heart just can’t wait to see (thankfully, viewers, such as myself, won’t have to wait long as it airs on November 7th at 10 PM EST) is The Christmas Ring.
The Hallmark Channel’s Diversity Evolution:
But, before I start to gush about The Christmas Ring and what Nazneen had to say about being the first South Asian to star in a Hallmark movie, let’s talk about the Hallmark Channel themselves.
Back in late 2019, the Hallmark Channel got themselves into some hot water after choosing “…to ban an advertisement featuring a same-sex wedding,” (see below) which resulted in “…Mike Perry, the president and CEO of Hallmark Cards to concede that the company had been wrong and overturned their initial decision to not air the commercial” . The backlash was fierce, which led to Hallmark doing some much-needed reflecting. The result was a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion, which can be seen in this year’s lineup of holiday flicks, which includes LGBTQIA+ couples and members of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) community in leading roles, as well as behind the scenes.
The Hallmark Channel, Nazneen Contractor, and The Christmas Ring:
Contractor, a brilliant and talented actress is originally from Mumbai, India and had previously resided in Nigeria and Toronto, Canada before relocating to Los Angeles, California. She has been passionate about being an actress since she was 16 years old, and has starred in a number of television shows and movies, including 24 (2009), Heroes Reborn (2015), and Star Wars Resistance (2018), including currently starring on the primetime CBS drama Ransom. According to the Hallmark Channel, The Christmas Ring, Contractor’s newest release, is about “A reporter (Contractor) searches for the love story behind an antique engagement ring. With the help of the ring’s owner’s grandson, they learn the legacy his grandparent’s left behind.”
Nazneen Contractor Makes History As The First South Asian Lead In The Hallmark Channel Film, The Christmas Ring: Contractor share her thoughts on breaking such a barrier. Photo Credit: www.twitter.com
DG: You are the first South Asian female lead in a Hallmark Channel film. Congratulations! First, what does this mean to you? Second, how does it make you feel?
NC: Being the first East Indian lead of a Hallmark Christmas movie is such a thrill. I loved everything about the role and my ethnicity is incidental to the story. Honestly, Hallmark could’ve gone with any ethnicity for this role, the fact that they went East Indian is a watershed moment. I am always so proud to represent my culture and heritage on screen.
Devika Goberdhan: What attracted you to the script for The Christmas Ring?
Nazneen Contractor: What attracted me to Anna White’s script were the themes of family, love, and sacrifice. These are themes that we can all relate to and that I hold very dear to my own heart. Also, Kendra Adams, was unlike any other character I’d played, so it’s always fun to do things that are not in your wheelhouse as a performer. And lastly, my Mom is a huge Hallmark fan, so I had to do it for her!
DG: What is one memory that stands out to you from filming?
NC: We filmed this in August, so one memory that stands out is how HOT it was for that time of year in Vancouver. And here we all are in wool, cashmere, winter coats and gloves selling the fact that it’s winter, when in actuality, it’s 26 degrees centigrade out! Our lovely wardrobe department would give us little portable fans and ice packs to put under our sweaters to cool off between takes.
Nazneen Contractor Makes History As The First South Asian Lead In The Hallmark Channel Film, The Christmas Ring: In the spirit of the holidays, Contractor and her co-star, David Alpay, bravely risked overheating while filming over the summer. Photo Credit: www.hallmarkmoviesandmysteries.com
DG: After overturning their decision to not to air an LBGTQIA+ advertisement in 2019, the Hallmark Channel has since reinforced that they are committed to diversity and inclusion. This year, their holiday movie lineup seems to demonstrate that. That said, how did Hallmark’s commitment to diversity and inclusion impact or motivate your decision to pursue this role?
NC: I really want to applaud Hallmark for representing different cultures, ethnicities and orientations in their casting and storytelling. The Christmas Ring is a wonderful example of this. Nowadays, you see more and more television and film where the lead is being played by a diverse individual, and that’s the way it should be.
DG: Why do you feel diversity is important in the entertainment industry, specifically in film and television?
NC: Positive results happen when diverse storytellers, actors, directors, and producers are involved both on-screen and behind the scenes. If there are not more diverse individuals who are included in the structures of power that disseminate the ideals through television and movies to the world, then nothing can change.
DG: What advice do you have for members of the South Asian community (and the larger Black, Indigenous and People of Colour — BIPOC community) who are pursuing opportunities in film/television, but are feeling self-conscious about their ethnicity or race?
NC: Ethnicity and race [are] what makes us unique. I moved around a lot as a child, and I was always the minority. When I came to Canada, no one could pronounce my name properly, or they would make fun of my last name…and I remember so desperately wanting to change my name to something like “Sarah” or “Kelly”. I just so badly wanted to blend in and feel “normal.” But, as I got older, I realized it was my differences that made me stand out and they ultimately were my keys to the door. Embracing my differences, my culture, and my Zoroastrian heritage ended up being a real draw to the people I encountered in the industry.
DG: What is one key lesson or takeaway that you gained from being a part of this film?
NC: One of the lessons I hope people take away from The Christmas Ring is to follow your heart. There is no greater truth than [this]: when we follow our heart, we cease to have regrets. I hope the viewers have as much fun watching the film as I had making it. Every laugh and smile you see on my face is so genuine.
DG: Do you have any other upcoming projects on the horizon?
NC: You can see me next in Spiral (the new Saw film with Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson) [that’s estimated for release on May 21, 2021], as well as the action film Trigger Point (starring Barry Pepper and Colm Feore).
Mark Your Calendars!
As an avid viewer of Hallmark’s holiday films, I’m confident that many people will relate when I say that being able to see people like myself on television or in movies is always a powerful and inclusive feeling.
The Christmas Ring premieres on the Hallmark Channel on November 7th at 10 PM EST (I know what I’ll be doing this weekend) and on the WNetwork on November 15th at 7 PM EST, so be sure to mark your calendars and tune in!