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Friday, October 27, 2006


The State of Race Relations in America (and my guess is that he looked Palestinian)

I was poking around on Google News the other day (I've been having issues with blogger and blogger for word), and ran across an article (which is no longer there, thanks for nothing, blogger) about a film coming out soon called "Color of the Cross." In this movie Jesus is portrayed as a black man. And this is supposed to be controversial and important:

"Color of the Cross" tells a traditional story, focusing on the last 48 hours of his life as told in the Gospels. In this version, though, race contributes to his persecution."

So THAT'S what was really going on in the Gospels? I didn't catch that, since my Bible doesn't have pictures.

Furthermore:

"What Jesus looked like has long been debated by theologians around the world. Different cultures have imagined him in different ways, says Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University. In Japan, Jesus looks Japanese. In Africa, he is black. But in America he is almost always white, like the fair-haired savior painted by Leonardo Da Vinci in "The Last Supper" in 1495."

Depictions of Jesus being black in Africa and Japanese in Japan and (not to detract from Leonardo's artistic abilities) white in Europe say something about the artists and their audiences, but absolutely nothing about "What Jesus looked like."

On the other hand, there's nothing terribly wrong with taking some creative license with the appearance of someone who was born over 2000 years ago, but to claim that it's the appearance that matters, in my opinion, misses the point: message matters. Jesus was executed because of his message, not because of his race; the story appeals to people today because of that message, not the messenger's race.

Maybe it's not actually a big deal in the film, but the article makes it sound as if it is. And apparently director/producer/star Jean Claude LaMarre and I wouldn't actually disagree on too much:

"The message is that color, a colored Jesus Christ, doesn't matter," he says. "That's why the movie is important. When you have one prevailing image out there, it suggests color does matter."

But then why the "In this version, though, race contributes to his persecution"? That's my hang-up. I understand that race is a touchy issue in America (though, contrary to what is suggested in the article, it is elsewhere as well: France anyone?), but I don't see how injecting it into an historical event where it played no significant role, and that has actually been a source of common ground between races, is supposed to help. The Romans and the Israelites, I uneducatedly guess, were probably ethnically distinguishable, but the biblical accounts indicate that it was the mob of locals and not the Roman Pilate who called for the execution, making it a "look what WE did" as opposed to "look what YOU did" moment.

In summation: black Jesus to encourage identification with the faith: fine; black Jesus shown as persecuted because he was black: foolish.

Oh, and here's a review from Variety. Pretty much a typical movie review, but contains some more details on the movie's focus on race.


3 comments

Comments:
"Do you think they are doing this because he is black?," Jesus' mother Mary intently inquires

What Variety neglects to include though is the next sentence in the movie...

"No, they're doing this because he's the Messiah."
 
Fair enough. Is the movie out here? I'm curious, and I'm still skeptical about the injection of race into the story. And that's the last (and first, for that matter) time I'll trust Variety (or the Santa Maria Times, or wherever the original story was, the link to which was broken between my typing and blogger cooperating).
 
Nah, as far as I know its not out yet.

The film has, however, generated quite a bit of discussion in the African-American, and black communities... as you can well imagine.

Consequently I've seen some of it, and talked about it with other people. Don't get Variety wrong... the film was made with a purpose; to get black people more interested with the Christian faith AND to show a Jesus possibly persecuted because of his skin color.

You hit the nail on the head in summarizing what would be fine, and what's utterly foolish.
 
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