• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    More Reviews for Color of the Cross

    I posted links to the first couple of reviews for the black Jesus film Color of the Cross a couple of weeks back, intending to update that post as more reviews became available. However, it took a while before any more reviews appeared to be in circulation, so I've waited until now, and will use this post to quote from a job lot of them.

    Joe Williams, writing for SL Today (St. Louis Today), has this to say:
    ...there is no sense that Jerusalem in 33 A.D. is a melting pot. And temperamentally this Jesus on the eve of crucifixion is not much different from the messiah we've seen in a hundred church productions: serene to the point of spaciness, with hardly a word to say about the world that we actually live in.

    John Beifuss, writing in the Memphis Commercial Appeal also touches on the historical accuracy of the film:
    The movie even eschews trendy Mel Gibson sadism: Writer-director Jean Claude LaMarre -- who also portrays the messiah, here referred to by what is intended to be a more accurate pronunciation of his Hebrew name, Yeshua -- skips right from the arrest in the garden of Gethsemane to the bloodied Jesus' last moments on the cross.


    At other times, the movie veers into camp. An unfortunately undeveloped story element is the portrayal of Judas (Johann Jean) as a violence-prone horndog who is jealous of Mary Magdalene's passion for the Christ. "It's easier to love a messiah than a fisherman," Judas rationalizes about the woman's preference as he pushes the Magdalene (Marjan Faritous) down on a bed. "Fine," she snarls, promisingly. "Would you like a feast your master has yet to enjoy?"
    Elsewhere John Monaghan's review for the Detroit Free Press (Jesus' Skin is Least of the Issues) also reflects on the film's unconventional jump from Gethsemane to Calvary
    ...the first film to depict a black African Jesus is hindered by shoddy production values and so-so storytelling. Say what you will about the rabbis in the film. At least they debate fiercely before throwing Jesus to the Romans. The performances range from LaMarre's understated savior to Johann John Jean's hammy Judas, who won't hesitate to take one of Jesus' followers by force when she resists his advances.

    You might say that by cutting straight from the Garden of Gethsemane to Jesus hanging on the cross, LaMarre is simply avoiding comparison. I'm grateful to be spared the torture of the crucifixion, though it still looks like someone simply misplaced the fourth reel.
    On a more positive note, whilst Kam Williams (Black Film) is unconvinced by the film's claim that Jesus was actually black, he does find the motive for the crucifixion believable, and is impressed by the acting
    Superficially, Color of the Cross reads like a Passion Play except for the fact that Jesus is black, and that he has been rejected by disbelieving rabbis who have a hard time swallowing the idea that of a dark-skinned Messiah. In fact, they routinely refer to him as the black Nazarene, so in this version of the New Testament not only do the Jews crucify Christ, but they’re portrayed as racists to boot.

    Although this ethnic discrimination angle might be factually inaccurate, since if Jesus was a black Jew, his accusers must’ve mostly been black Jews, too, the best thing about Color of the Cross is that it finally furnishes us with a reason for the Crucifixion. It reminded me of the Don Rickles routine in which the comedian wondered how his people could possibly have screwed up Christmas. Now we at least have a theory.

    The storyline aside, Jean-Claude LaMarre charismatic performance as Jesus is what really holds the production together. He receives considerable help in this regard from his capable supporting cast which includes Debbi Morgan as the Virgin Mary, Ananda Lewis as Leah, Akiva David as John, Jacinto Taras Riddick as Peter, and John Pierre Parent as Doubting Thomas.
    Box Office Mojo is reporting that the film has so far only taken $74,496 in the 17 days since its release, after an opening weekend of $25,868 (across 29 theaters, at $892 per theatre average). As I understand it though the plan was for the film to be distributed more widely after the first fortnight, so those figures may increase somewhat over the next ten days or so. I'm surprised that these figures are so low. It's a very interesting premise, even if many of the reviews haven't been that great. I'm still hoping the film gets a release in Europe, because I think there would be a good deal of interest in it over here.



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