Racializing The Bible

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The History Channel’s Bible series has been making waves in television news. Out of the many remarkable moments the show has successfully recreated, you’ve probably seen the side-by-side picture of President Barack Obama and Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, the actor who plays Satan in the mini-series. Debates have been circulating, arguing both for and against the show’s producers and their alleged involvement in the creative decisions behind the likeness. Regardless of whether the undeniable resemblance was deliberate, I am concerned with the damage that has already been done.

When Mark Burnett and Roma Downey decided to take on this monumental project, they committed knowing controversy was inevitable. As a devout Christian I was delighted to hear about the series, thrilled that the Gospel would be dramatized for millions of viewers to see. I was curious to see how the show would cover so much material in a mini-series, but they have been managing just fine through their selective storytelling style.

In visualizing Satan’s infamous character, many decisions had to be made. While the physical features of Jesus have been debated for centuries, not many assumptions regarding the devil’s appearance have included race, and for good reason—he doesn’t have one. Satan’s resemblance to the President in The Bible series has little to do with Obama and everything to do with racial representation.

In the devil’s first appearance, he is wearing a hooded black robe and bears a blue-ish skin tone. It would have been too risky to assign a blatant race to a universally despised spiritual force. A supposedly coincidental look alike of the current U.S President, who happens to be Black, however, was strategic. The show should continue to claim that the similarities weren’t intentional for PR purposes, but in all honesty the motives don’t matter; the irrevocable damage has already been done. Millions of viewers, most notably children, are likely to now associate the first Black President of the United States with a hooded devil. The imagery doesn’t get more vivid than that. But I am neither surprised nor enraged. I am deeply troubled over the millions of minds that have been tainted with a racially charged portrayal of Satan.

It is true that someone had to play him, but his character certainly didn’t need to resemble anyone in particular, especially someone from a marginalized racial group. While some may argue that the show should not be taken at face value, it is too connected to such a widely accepted truth not to be. Christianity is the largest religion in the world, claiming over two billion professors of the faith, thus, the series’ new role as the go-to visual manifestation of The Holy Book should not be taken lightly. With the potential to evolve into a full-length narrative, one can only hope that The Bible will cast and portray Biblical characters more responsibly in the future.

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