Film challenges usual image of the messiah
Johannesburg: He is not meek, he is not blond and he most definitely is not white. A new interpretation of the Bible has cast Jesus Christ as a revolutionary fighting oppression in contemporary Africa.
Billed as the world's first black Jesus film, Son of Man, which premieres on Sunday at the Sundance film festival in Utah in the U.S., challenges Hollywood depictions of a Western-looking messiah with a gritty portrayal of a political activist who rallies a township.
Instead of robes and homilies about turning the other cheek, this Jesus wears jeans and T-shirts and urges supporters to resist - peacefully - a tyrannical regime in an unnamed southern African country that resembles Zimbabwe. A collaboration between Spier films and the Dimpho Di Kopane, a theatre and film ensemble, the feature, made in South Africa, was shot in rural Eastern Cape and in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town plagued by poverty and crime.
South African audiences who viewed a rough cut responded positively, but the makers were braced for controversy at Sundance, which is one of America's leading festivals, producer Camilla Driver said.
Son of Man, directed by Mark Dornford-May, depicts Jesus as a divine being who performs miracles. But it may prove contentious for switching the story from Roman-occupied first-century Palestine to misruled 21st-century Africa. "He gathers people around him to fight against poverty and political oppression," said Pauline Malefane, who plays Mary. "It feels a bit like apartheid, people living in fear that soldiers could come into the house at any time and kill children."
But with the oppressor a black government, there was an echo of Robert Mugabe's regime, said Malefane, who is also an associate producer.
Jesus begins preaching after an encounter with Satan, who wears black leather, at his Xhosa circumcision rite. The resurrection, which is implied rather than shown, is meant to signal hope for the world's poorest continent, said Mr. Dornford-May.
- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006