Everyone loves falling in love. And now more people can see themselves in the rom-com universe
December means three things: Elf on the Shelf, family drama, and Lifetime movies. In 2020, the year of never-ending awfulness, we needed a win. Ali Stroker, in her everlasting kindness, gave us one. Coming off a strong 2019, Stroker became the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award for her performance in the revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! This year, she’s starring in Christmas Ever After.
The movie premiered Sunday night on Lifetime. In the film, Stroker plays Izzi Simmons, a romance novelist who visits the same snowglobe-like bed & breakfast every holiday season. This December, though, her trip is clouded by a bad case of writer’s block — until she comes across the inn’s bae-worthy new owner, Matt (Daniel di Tomasso), who just so happens to look like the hero of Izzi’s novels.
Stoker told People magazine that bringing the character to life and playing the lead in a holiday film was “a dream come true.”
“This character has a disability. She’s in a wheelchair, and that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have these romantic storylines in her life,” says Stroker, 33. “Representation means so much to me.”
The actor says that while playing Izzi, she couldn’t help but think of the “young girls out there” with disabilities who will watch Christmas Ever After and see that a love story “can exist for them.” The Twitterverse seems to agree. Users took to the platform to praise Stroker and the film itself. “So excited to see Ali Stroker on Lifetime TV,” one user wrote. “Why can’t they all be that good?” another asked. Twitter user This is the voicemail for Rebekah Witherspoon had a more pragmatic approach (and the award for best username), “Romance people, this Christmas flick features a romance author. I’m definitely checking this out. I need to see her wardrobe of day pajamas and evening pajamas.”
“When I was growing up, I was always so nervous, like, ‘Am I ever going to have a relationship? Am I going to have a love story in my life?’ I wanted that so much,” Stroker says. “I wish I had seen stories like this, I wish I had seen myself represented in that narrative, it would have made such a difference in my life.”
“When things get really difficult, I remember that it is not just about me,” the former Glee Project star continues. “It’s about all of those people with disabilities, my community, seeing themselves represented in mainstream media, on-screen and onstage.”
To any young viewers who see a little bit of themselves in her character, Stoker says she would tell them, “That’s you, baby! That story can be yours and love can exist for you — a holiday rom-com could be your real life. You matter and you count and your voice is important, and you are important.”
Making a romcom during a pandemic proved to be an adventure? In addition to frequent tests, quarantines and masks, Stroker and co-star di Tomasso had to adapt to filming their kisses through plexiglass.
“It’s totally nuts,” she says, laughing. “Kissing through plexiglass, it just feels like you’re in high school — it was hilarious.”