Little Mix star Leigh-Anne Pinnock makes her movie debut in Boxing Day, which has just received its first trailer. The movie marks the feature directorial debut of I May Destroy You star Aml Ameen who also wrote, produced and stars in the lead role as Melvin, a British author living in America.
In the festive trailer, we see Melvin returning home to London with his new fiancée, Lisa (Aja Naomi King). At Christmas the couple come face-to-face with Melvin's ex-girlfriend and global superstar, Georgia (Pinnock). Speaking to Digital Spy, Ameen explained that he was "hell-bent on finding my Julia Roberts from My Best Friend's Wedding or Notting Hill" for the role of Georgia, finding her in the Little Mix star.
"I wanted someone with the characteristics of those roles. I was looking for someone who could sing too. My writing partner, Bruce Purnell, said that I had to check out this girl and showed me Leigh-Anne. I didn't know Little Mix at the time," he continued.
"One of the casting directors got in touch with her, and she filmed a tape. When I watched it, I saw something incredible in there. Now I know her really well, and she's one of the most wonderful people I've ever met in my life.
"She's got so much humanity; so sensitive, so down to earth. That's what made her the superstar she is, and why people love her so much, and these are the aspects I really wanted in the character of Georgia."
Ameen praised how seriously Pinnock approached her movie debut, taking acting classes and working "tirelessly" in the role, with the rest of the cast taking her under their wing.
Boxing Day is a "reimagining" of Ameen's own experiences of bringing American girlfriends back to his British Caribbean family, and he wanted to put "multicultural" Britain at the forefront of the story.
"I've lived in America for 11 years, and I know what it's like to be a fish out of water there. I've had American girlfriends, and I've introduced them to my Black British Caribbean family, where those girlfriends have been like, 'Wow, this is what Black people are like in the UK!'," he reflected.
"I wanted something where a Black British audience can see themselves or their family on screen, as well as seeing African American culture in Lisa and Caribbean culture in Melvin's family."
Boxing Day not only marks Pinnock's movie debut, but it's also the UK's first-ever Christmas-set romantic comedy with an all-Black cast. It's an aspect that was understandably crucial to Ameen.
"If the world stopped tomorrow and we only had Black British cinema to tell us what Black Brits were like, would it be one particular lens of a particular culture? London is one of the most diverse places on the planet, and showing that was really important to me," he noted.
"I love Love Actually, I love Notting Hill, I love My Best Friend's Wedding, Crazy Rich Asians and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I wanted to add to those stories, and give my personal adage to a genre I love so much too.
"We're honouring those films that came before us but putting a modern flair on things. We're empowering people to challenge some of those iconic moments, like the nod to the Love Actually scene.
"In the trailer, you can see Melvin's sister telling him to update his software and that the big declarations of love don't work anymore. It's the younger generation telling the older generation how it is."
Should Boxing Day end up being spoken about alongside those classic rom-coms and become a festive mainstay like Love Actually, Ameen would take it as a "great honour" as those movies "are part of British culture, regardless of race and culture".
However, for Ameen, it was also important to represent love through different generations in the movie. "You have teenage love and nostalgic love that you see all the time [on screen] but then you have that grown-up love, where you have to really work with your partner to start a life together," he explained.
"Then you have love in your 50s and 60s, maybe after a relationship didn't work out or someone passes away, so you're starting again. It was really important for me to express that kind of love, especially with the mother character, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste.
"Black women in their 50s are beautiful, sassy, sexy – in fact, all women in their 50s, period! So it was really important to show that."
Boxing Day is released in UK cinemas on December 3
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