Why “A Diva’s Christmas Carol” Is the Greatest Holiday Movie of All Time

Starring Vanessa Williams as Ebony Scrooge, the 2000 TV movie is a sassy update of the classic Dickens tale—and an underappreciated gem.

Can We Talk About…? is a weekly series that’s really angling to be Mariah Carey’s 20th No. 1 hit.

Comeback queen Vanessa Williams was on her second or third go-around—between the chart-topping “Save the Best for Last” and her delicious turn on Ugly Betty—when she took on the role of a lifetime as Ebony Scrooge in the 2000 VH1 TV movie A Diva’s Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol back in 1843, and since then it has been adapted, reimagined, and reinvented innumerable times. But no version lives up to A Diva’s Christmas Carol—if only for how campy and fun it is.

Written and directed by Richard Schenkman, this take on the classic still manages to hit all the traditional Christmas Carol marks.

First, we’ve got our Scrooge character (just Ebony to her fans), a tempestuous pop star who hates Christmas and makes everyone around her miserable as a result.

With dreams of dollar signs dancing in her head, she demands a concert on Christmas Day, forcing all of her employees to cancel any and all holiday plans with their families, including her long-suffering manager Bob Cratchett (Brian McNamara). Bob’s son, (Tiny) Tim, played by Joshua Archambault, is really sick, but Ebony doesn’t really care because it doesn’t directly affect her.

Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas—of legendary girl group TLC—plays Marli, Ebony’s former bandmate who got into drugs and died in a car crash just as Ebony was reaching solo superstardom. On Christmas Eve, the ghost of Marli—wearing some snazzy, ’90s Versace-inspired, hellish couture—visits Ebony and warns her about her evil ways.

And then there are the three ghosts of Christmas who visit Ebony. Before her life on the D-list, Kathy Griffin played the first of these yuletide spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes Ebony back in time before she was a monstrous, demanding diva.

Ebony used to be a part of the ’80s girl group Desire, whose fake hit “Heartquake” is a tried-and-true bop that any pop star would’ve been lucky to have had.
 

“You can’t be serious / There must be some mistake / Am I delirious? / Or do I feel a heartquake?”

I mean, that’s songwriting, kids.

In a tale as old as Diana Ross and the Supremes, Ebony hogs the spotlight and eventually takes off, leaving the other two members of Desire in her dust. While Marli dies tragically, Terry (Stephanie Biddle) is broke and alone. You see, Ebony took her to the cleaners in a lawsuit over the name “Desire.”

Duran Duran’s John Taylor plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, a hard-partying rocker who shows Ebony what a monstrous, demanding diva she is and how poorly she treats her staff. Meanwhile, Ebony’s niece Olivia (Amanda Brugel) is the only person in the world who has anything nice to say about Ms. Scrooge.

After that second spirit tries to show her the light, you’d think Ebony’s heart would’ve grown at least a size, maybe a size and a half, especially after she learns that Tim is not only sick, but dying. But when Bob comes to see Ebony and tell her that he’s leaving to be with his kid—who is, again, dying—she still yells at him.

So now it’s time to bring out the big guns.

In a then-timely twist, the Ghost of Christmas Future is Ebony’s episode of Behind the Music. And it is a Hot. Mess. In cameos, Brian McKnight and Nile Rodgers are basically dancing on her grave, her former backup singers and dancers talk all kinds of shit about her, and we learn about a secret affair Ebony had with Anne Heche.

It was 2000, after all.

Realizing that her legacy will be in tatters (maybe not the greatest lesson, but it’s a lesson), Ebony awakes Christmas morning and does a complete one-eighty, embracing the holiday, repenting for her past sins, and making amends. She even reaches out to Taylor and brings her up onstage for a duet of their 1988 Desire hit, “Sleigh Ride.” This finally sets Marli’s spirit free, and everyone else lives happily ever after.
 

Looking back on it, Ebony was the blueprint for Williams’ later triumph as the fabulous and frosty Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty, a performance that earned her three Emmy nominations. Where were the trophies for A Diva’s Christmas Carol, though? Because mama was giving you everything.

Currently, A Diva’s Christmas is only streaming on something called Philo, but I watched a wonky bootleg copy on YouTube that’s probably going to be taken down before I finish writing this sentence.

But since ’tis the season and all, A Diva’s Christmas Carol should be playing on some channel at any and all times for the next week, so I implore you to watch it if you haven’t seen it, or rewatch it if you have. However, I will not be blamed for “Heartquake” getting stuck in your head for the rest of the year.

Also, you’re welcome.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat