December 2, 2009

‘Christmas in Canaan’ not to be missed

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Relationships, Spirituality, Television at 9:52 pm by dinaheng

“I won’t raise that boy up to be a bigot,” says Daniel Burton, a widower who’s doing his best to rear three children on a limited income in the Hallmark Channel’s original movie “Christmas in Canaan.”

For Billy Ray Cyrus, who plays Burton in the film, the movie holds personal meaning. Set in the1960s, the story shows how two young boys — one white and one black — overcome racial tensions to form a lifelong bond because of the prodding of one boy’s father (Cyrus) and the other’s grandmother, Miss Eunice (Candus Churchill).

“I felt that Daniel was my dad, Ron Cyrus,” says the singer-actor, who kept looking at old family Polaroids from the 1960s for inspiration during filming. “The way Daniel brought the two boys together was exactly the way my dad would have handled the situation. My dad is the guy who persuaded me to go into acting. He said he wanted me to have a career as diverse as Kenny Rogers, so it’s ironic that I did this film with Kenny.”

“Christmas In Canaan,” which airs Saturday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. Eastern and at other times through Dec. 19 on the Hallmark Channel, is based on the book written by Grammy Award winner Kenny Rogers and Donald Davenport.

Great strides have been made since the Civil Rights Movement, yet prejudice is a challenge we have not fully overcome. Violent deeds have become a war of words, couched in politically correct terms, and overt actions have become less obvious slights.

The simple truths shared in “Christmas In Canaan” are a reminder that it doesn’t take much to  bridge our differences, if we have the courage to open our hearts and look at issues from a higher perspective.

“I’m from Eastern Kentucky and grew up in the heart of Appalachia,” Cyrus says. “I was brought up with my grandfather, who was a Pentecostal preacher, and the Golden Rule was in my upbringing. We were taught to treat everyone the way you want to be treated, regardless of the color of their skin.”

After Miss Eunice dies, a teenage Rodney (Matt Ward) moves in with DJ (Jacob Blair) and the Burton family. When some white neighbors try to destroy a civil rights meeting held by the black community, the Burton family rises to support the young man who has become a part of their family.

What Daniel does to make that Christmas special during a tough economic year shows the power of hope and belief, and will resonate with many today.

“I pray for things to have purpose and meaning,” Cyrus says. “This movie is about love, and the seeds we sow will be the fruit that manifests in our lives. There’s still racism in the world, but we’re all one race — the human race, and that’s what this film represents. We’ve come a long way, and we have a long way to go. But we’re all here for a reason… to give back and to love each other.”

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