Day 6

Same-sex kiss made this Hallmark actor a target of hate — but on-screen diversity is important, she says

Vancouver-based actor Ali Liebert, who is queer, came up against a torrent of negative online reaction after playing a lesbian lead character in a recent Hallmark Christmas film. But she says the positive feedback she's received has far outweighed the criticism.

Vancouver-based actor Ali Liebert says she's proud to play a lesbian character in a Christmas film

Ali Liebert, right, plays Nora in Every Time a Bell Rings. Nora is the love interest of Maizy, played by Lyndie Greenwood, left. The two share a kiss in the Hallmark Christmas movie — a move that was criticized online. (Crown Media Family Networks)

Vancouver-based actor Ali Liebert recalls receiving a torrent of negative online reaction over her character's on-screen same-sex kiss in a recent Hallmark Christmas film. 

People criticized the go-to holiday movie network for embracing "politically correct" and "woke" story lines, suggesting the inclusion of a lesbian couple in Every Time A Bell Rings, starring Liebert, was not family friendly. Viewers commenting on a YouTube trailer for the film suggested they would stop watching Hallmark films because of the same-sex relationship portrayed.

Despite the backlash, Liebert, who is queer, says the feedback she's received for positively presenting an LGBTQ love story in the film has far outweighed the criticism. 

"I have been overwhelmed with the love and positive comments as well that I have been receiving from folks all over the world who have been watching the movie and feeling so excited that this story line is in a Hallmark Christmas movie," Liebert said in an interview with Day 6 host Peter Armstrong.

In multiple tweets related to Liebert's film, Hallmark signalled support for diversity in its films. "Our priority is to develop a diverse mix of content, characters and narratives in order to create a Hallmark experience where everyone feels welcome," read one tweet.

Christmas films have long stuck to traditional story lines featuring saccharine — yet, comforting — romances between women and men. But in recent years, networks and film studios have embraced diverse love stories.

In 2020, films like Happiest Season, a Hollywood blockbuster featuring a lesbian couple (Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis) who return home for the holidays, and Hallmark's own The Christmas House, starring openly gay actor Jonathan Bennett, broke the mould of what stories holiday films could tell. 

The trend continues this year with a number of films featuring LGBTQ characters and romances, including Netflix's Single All The Way.

"I was very pleasantly surprised when I received the call to play this role of a lesbian in a hallmark Christmas movie," said Liebert. "For me, as a queer person, [I] felt very moved by that and I am proud of the steps that they are making."

She adds that in a change for LGBTQ-focused stories, the character Nora's sexuality is not portrayed as a problem or an uncomfortable reality. Instead, it's just one of the aspects of her life that make up the character. 

Hallmark embracing more diverse stories

After pulling an ad featuring two women kissing from its networks in December 2019, saying the display of affection violated its policies, Crown Media Family Networks — the company that produces Hallmark's films — came under fire for its lack of diversity. The company later apologized.

Since then, Wonya Lucas, who was named Crown Media CEO in August 2020, said the company is committed to diversifying the stories it tells. 

"I'm proud of the progress this team is making to expand diversity in our programming and it is nothing short of seismic," she told Deadline last February.

"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."

That's a welcome shift for Liebert, who is best known for her role in the TV series Bomb Girls. The actor says had stories like Every Time a Bell Rings existed when she was younger, she may have felt empowered to come out sooner.

Queer or straight, Liebert says holiday films where "nothing bad happens" are a pleasant reprieve for viewers.

"The holidays can be a really hard time of year for a lot of people," she told Armstrong.

"Knowing you are going to be safe and laugh — maybe you'll cry — you can enjoy a couple of hours."

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview with Ali Liebert produced by Devin Nguyen.

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