The Hallmark Channel, the cable television network known for its family friendly romantic comedies centered around Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, as well as various mystery and detective series, has been providing safe, clean entertainment for decades. There is no vulgar language, no premarital sex, and while the plot lines may be predictable, the overall product has been eminently watchable – and very popular.

That may no longer be the case.

In 2019, Hallmark experienced its first cultural flashpoint over LGBT issues when it aired an ad during one of its movies that showed a lesbian newlywed couple kissing at an altar. When viewers objected, Hallmark apologized and took down the ad, only to put it back up and apologize once again, this time to LGBT activists who criticized the company for its deference to family viewers.

Fast forward to 2021. Hallmark has been at work inserting LGBT characters into its shows, and Wonya Lucas, the new president and CEO of Hallmark’s parent company, Crown Media Family Networks, is touting the success of the company’s “diversity and inclusivity” effort.

When asked about the 2019 controversy, Lucas, who has been with the company only six months, avoided the subject.

“Before I arrived, we had begun to expand our brand inclusiveness in front of and behind the camera,” she told Deadline, an online news site. “I’m proud of the progress this team is making to expand diversity in our programming, and it is nothing short of seismic. The significant achievements made in the D&I space in 2020 laid the groundwork for us to branch out in our storytelling to approach the complexity of what it means to love and be a family in a more authentic, varied, and inclusive way. We will continue to strive to defy common stereotypes and give our characters more depth and dimension; in short, to more broadly represent the human condition. And what a difference a year makes. But believe me; we know there is so much more good work yet to be done.”

One of the movies Hallmark pointed to as an indicator of its success at LGBT diversity was The Christmas House, a multi-generational movie of a husband and wife with two sons, one of whom is married to another man. An upcoming movie, Mix Up in the Mediterranean, will feature a gay lead.

What are Christians to think about all this?

The Daily Citizen sat down with Adam Holz, the director of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In, an entertainment and technology review website. We asked him about developments at The Hallmark Channel, and cultural developments in entertainment in general.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a growing movement toward representation of LGBTQ+ characters across the spectrum in entertainment,” Holz said. “From movies to TV, music to kids’ shows, there’s hardly been a mainstream entertainment outlet untouched by this cultural shift. Increasingly, portraying LGBT characters isn’t just something we’re seeing occasionally. Instead, it’s practically become a requirement. You’ll be hard pressed to find a TV show these days that doesn’t have an openly gay, trans or queer character of some kind.

“Until recently, original movies on The Hallmark Channel had been one of a few high-profile holdouts. But the cable network’s annual lineup of Christmas-themed movies last year changed that. The Christmas House included a very typical Hallmark-style romance between two men. Conservative and Christian fans of the channel who weren’t aware of this shift were likely caught off guard by it. But given new president and CEO Wonya Lucas’ recent statements, it looks as if Hallmark stories will be hitching their content to the LGBTQ+ and inclusivity bandwagon from here on out.”

Holz says that developments at The Hallmark Channel are not unique to that one network, but are becoming ubiquitous throughout the entertainment industry, and Christian families looking for entertainment that reflects their values will need to be more discerning.

“The march toward inclusivity in popular culture isn’t likely to abate,” he said. “And The Hallmark Channel is simply the latest, and one of the last, major outlets to salute and fall in. That means that Christian families will need to understand that this kind of content will likely become more common in the future amid movies that once steered clear of it. Lucas sees this ‘seismic shift’ as a good thing; conservative former fans may well begin to look for similar programming on outlets creating original content such as PureFlix.”

The Hallmark Channel was the #2 most watched entertainment network on cable television in 2020.

Photo from Wikipedia