I wasn’t going to say anything but Ok…I’ll take this one for the team.
The History Channel’s Bible mini series has helped to bring “The greatest story ever told” to a new generation and has certainly gained a lot of buzz due to its incredible production quality and endorsement from high profile pastors such as T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen.
Of course trying to fit a huge narrative like the biblical story which spans multiple centuries and cultures is a daunting task even when you break it up into multiple episodes. Inevitably you get multiple scholars and armchair theologians criticizing the accuracy of the plot line and the omission and revision of different bible verses.
Why is “for himself” omitted from Abraham’s line “The Lord will provide a sacrifice”?
How come Moses strikes his staff on the ground instead of stretching it towards the sea?
All of these are valid questions and I have an equally valid one “Where are the people of African descent?” You may reply “They are in the series. There are some.” But my question is not “how come there is no one of African descent in the series?”. My question is “Where are the people of African descent? Where are they socially and culturally located?”
Yes the narrator Keith David is black. The angel that rescues Lot’s wife is of African descent. Balthazar one of the three wise men is black and Samson and his family are of African descent as well. So….What’s my beef?
Here is what I see in the casting of people of African descent. All of the black characters are either invisible, exotic “others”, or in the case of the one major role of Samson depraved, flawed, and deficient. Let’s break it down like this:
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe this movie is very accurate. Accurate of the perceptions we have of people of African descent in the 21st century. We are either off people’s radar; seen as exotic “others” with a strange culture; or morally depraved like Samson who screwed his life up through sex and violence.
I do not believe the creators of the series Mark Burnett and Roma Downey intended this to be the case. This is not a judgment on them. They are just part of our society and culture. I applaud their efforts to bring the Bible to the public square ad adding diversity into the cast of characters. This is not a push to make all the characters black but a critique of our society’s already established racial perceptions.
Why does this even matter? It matters because pastors all across America were endorsing and promoting this before their congregations and it reinforces stereotypes and assumptions. It lets kids of African descent know that even if they are in the story they are on the outside. It matters because I get tired of having to prove to young African American adults that following Jesus is not following a white man’s religion. It matters because people of African descent were not marginal to the world of the ancient near east but major players and my children need to know that as I raise them up to consider the Bible and its teachings.
Shouldn’t it disturb us that Adam and Eve are portrayed as a white couple when the discoveries of anthropology and genetics say this cannot be the case. Shouldn’t it disturb us that Jesus the hope of every nation looks like a Vidal Sassoon model? I’m disturbed and I hope you are too.
Strength and honor!!!