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Movie Review: Race Stains La Marre’s Color of the Cross

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This article is part of a series in celebration of a new, dynamic voice in Black America: the NUBIANO Exchange. Brace yourself for the NUBIANO experience. 

by maLana t.

When a Christian film depicting the life of Jesus surfaces, more often than not we are presented with a Messiah of European origin: his hair is long, his skin is pale, and he bears no resemblance to the description of scriptural history. But in Color of the Cross, director Jean-Claude La Marre presents a savior of darker descent, a Black Jesus.

But is this portrayal any more accurate than what we are used to? Yes and no. The Jesus character himself, played by La Marre, is a Black man. His hair is as the wool spoken of in Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:9), and his skin is sun-kissed. In this manner, the person of Jesus reflects the few biblical passages that refer to what he may possibly have looked like. But that is the only near accuracy the film portrays.

In La Marre’s vision, Jesus the Christ, referred to by his Aramaic title of Joshua, is persecuted and crucified, not because he is claiming to be the Messiah, but because he is a Black man claiming to be the Messiah. This theme of race overpowers any spiritual message the film might have had, as the inaccuracy of it simply cannot be overlooked. Often denoted as the “Black Jew,” it becomes clear that the film is less about the trials of Jesus and more about the imagined implications of race.

As the film opens we are presented with a diversity of races and skin colors. However, this is not done to add variety to the cast and cultures of the times, but to highlight racial division. Jesus, his brother James, and Judas are obviously Black, while the rest of the disciples resemble those who have played their parts in the past. The Sadducees and Pharisees are depicted in a more traditional Jewish likeness. In short, there is such a motley of races that it’s hard to believe that any of these individuals derive from the same culture. 

The focus is so heavy on race that there is barely any mention of Jesus’ actual teachings or purpose, only that he is being persecuted due to his skin color. As for the plot itself, the tone is overly dramatic with very little climax. La Marre's is an unemotional Jesus whose constantly calm composure diminishes the humanity that Jesus encompassed. The film trudges along as the audience attempts, without much success, to recognize key players and match together relatives who bear absolutely no likeness to one another.

There are many other ahistorical liberties taken in La Marre’s cinematic creation, leaving one to classify it merely as a “movie” and not a “masterpiece.” Mildly entertaining at best, Color of the Cross does not earn the stamp of biblical approval. Perhaps had the film focused more on accuracy and less on race it could have been considered a classic. Quite simply, what we understand to be “Black” in today’s world is a concept that was nonexistent in the time of Jesus and his disciples. This is not to say that racial and cultural divisions did not exist; to imply such would be misleading and erroneous. But the partitions between Black and White as we understand them in America are unique to our culture and our country. To retrograde this sort of racism thousands of years prior to its conception, particularly when dealing with scriptural histories, does more to warp these accounts than to reveal further truths.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Color of the Cross – Official Website

"In Color of the Cross, Jesus is Black". MSNBC, 27 October 2006.

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About Clayton Perry