Many say Movies Based On the Bible Turn Out Looking So…Racist

A scene from "Exodus: Gods & Kings"

Whitewashing the Bible is nothing new. It has been a mainstay of Western culture for centuries — from pallid Byzantine icons to Leonardo da Vinci’s lily-white “Madonna of the Rocks” to Charlton Heston’s roles in “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur.”

These depictions always provoke debate. What did Jesus really look like? What color was Mary’s hair? God doesn’t actually look like Gandalf, does he? Historians, anthropologists and geneticists have all weighed in — and the consensus seems to be that Moses probably looked nothing like Charlton Heston and Jesus little like his Byzantine portraits.

In an interview with The Washington Post, the theologian and historian Reza Aslan, author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” explained to Max Fisher that Jesus was a Galilean, and “as a Galilean, he would have been what is referred to as a Palestinian Jew. He would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today. So that would mean dark features, hairy, probably a longer nose, black hair.”

But this is not the Jesus audiences see projected on movie-theater screens. In “The Passion of the Christ,” he was played by Jim Caviezel, an American actor of Irish, Swiss and Slovakian descent. The History Channel’s “The Bible” cast Diogo Morgado, who is Portuguese, in the role of Christ; Darwin Shaw, a British actor, as Saint Peter; and a slew of other white actors as Moses, Abraham, Adam and Eve.

Likewise, recent pictures based on Old Testament books, like Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” and Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” to be released later this year, tell their stories in monochrome. Many observers wonder why, in 2014, these blunders are still so common.

As Roxane Gay notes for Vulture, even well-intentioned filmmakers can be inadvertently obtuse when attempting to capture culturally sensitive stories on film.

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The New York Times

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