Since Frances and Katherine were born we've only made it out of the house three times to see movies (and only one of those, Walk the Line, was worth the time). But I'm always interested in hearing about new flicks and my interest doubles if the movie deals with religion in some way. So this story from Ecumenical News International, republished in UCCNews, caught my eye.
Has anyone seen this film yet or know much about it?
A new film from South Africa eschews an often-popular image of a meek, white European Jesus and replaces it with one of a strong-willed, black African Jesus who preaches hope to the poor and questions political authority.
The film, "Son of Man", has been showing at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah where it premiered on 22 January. Its creators are seeking worldwide distribution of the movie.
Filmed mainly in the black townships of Cape Town, "Son of Man" places the story of Jesus in a shantytown and brings a political flavor in depicting the Gospel narratives. It is a collaboration between director Mark Dornford-May and Dimpho Di Kopane, a theatre company from the South African town of Stellenbosch.
Dornford-May says that in other portrayals of Jesus, "Christ has been hijacked a bit - he's gone very blond-haired and blue-eyed," adding that the initial response to the film among church audiences in South Africa was favourable. "We wanted to look at the gospels as if they were written by spin doctors and to strip that away and look at the truth," Dornford-May told the Reuters news agency in an interview. "The truth is that Christ was born in an occupied state and preached equality at a time when that wasn't very acceptable."
The image of a black Jesus had emerged in the 1960s and 1970s with the development of black theology in the United States and Africa. The film adheres to black theology tenets - including the depiction of Jesus as a champion of the powerless.
"It feels a bit like apartheid, people living in fear that soldiers could come into the house at any time and kill children," said Pauline Malefane, who plays Jesus' mother, Mary, and is also the movie's associate producer, in an interview with South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper.
But the film also depicts the authorities Jesus opposes as black. To some, that might evoke comparisons with the government of President Robert Mugabe in South Africa's neighbouring Zimbabwe, Malefane told the Mail and Guardian.
How we literally see the image of Jesus shows the tremendous differences in how we understand our Christian faith. Every culture adopts Jesus. In the United States, Jesus is a superhero and most often portrayed as white with blond hair. In other parts of the world he is seen as black, or Asian, or even in images that depict him as female or powerless to affect events as he hangs from the cross. Some people see Jesus as gay and others as a brash - even sexy - warrior.
Whatever from you pick for what you think Jesus looks like speaks volumes about what your own theology sounds like. There are those afraid of all these differences. You hear them protesting at films that Jesus could never have looked or acted the way the film suggests. After all, we've created Jesus in our image so we should know what he acted like (or looked like).
Such a debate over Jesus doesn't make me frightened. We know a lot about what the historical Jesus might have looked like based on our understandings of human looks from that time in history. But the post-Easter Jesus speaks to a much broader audience than the historical Jesus did. It makes sense that Jesus would speak differently to people from one context to another. And it makes sense that we in the US, for example, have a lot to offer and a lot to learn from people in Southern India who have experienced and imagined Jesus differently than we have. God is still speaking to all cultures and we should be taking part in the conversation.
A movie like this makes us ask questions.
What are the images of Jesus that you grew up with?
How have those images changed?
Have your life experiences, readings of the Scriptures, or interactions with other cultures changed the ways in why you understand Jesus?
Would it matter if Jesus were a black African rather than a white American?
Don't be surprised to learn the Religious Right is already at the gates ready to fight the film. The Republican Party-aligned Institute on Religion and Democracy recently took aim at the director of the film:
"We wanted to look at the gospels as if they were written by spindoctors and to strip that away and look at the truth. The truth is that Christ was born in an occupied state and preached equality at a time when that wasn't very acceptable."
- Mark Dornford-May, director of Son of Man, a movie which retells the passion of Christ by placing Jesus in a modern African state in a state of civil war.
IRD placed Dornford-May's statement on the "Outrageous Quotes of the Week" section of their web site. IRD's Jesus is one who read the Republican Party Platform word for word during the sermon on the mount (forgetting all the parts about love and justice). IRD supports war, opposes anti-poverty programs, and charges that Christians that disagree with the President's Iraq war are un-American. IRD' staff and board are made up of many prominent Republican activists and funders. They don't want anyone to ever mess with their Repubican Jesus.
I'm looking forward to seeing this film. We just need a babysitter.