‘The Book of Clarence’ Star David Oyelowo Says Black Inclusion in Biblical Films Is Overdue: ‘High Time We Were Represented’ | Video

Jeymes Samuel’s “The Book of Clarence” features a predominately Black cast, something co-star David Oyelowo told TheWrap has been missing from Hollywood’s biblical narratives for far too long.

Oyelowo plays John the Baptist in “The Book of Clarence,” a casting that underscores how rarely people of color have been featured in Hollywood films set in biblical times.

From Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” to Garth Davis’ “Mary Magdalene,” Black people have largely been excluded from the category despite the community’s historical relevance and relationship to Christianity. The 1998 animated film “The Prince of Egypt” even featured an all-white voice cast portraying nonwhite characters.

The issue is one of the reasons why Oyelowo wanted to be part of Samuel’s film in the first place.

“I’m a Christian myself, and Jeymes is a good friend of mine. I remember talking to him early on about the film and about the fact that I loved its irreverent aspects, but it also had a reverent quality to it, which is a really tough needle to thread. And what I landed on is the fact that Clarence the character, played by LaKeith [Stanfield], is irreverent, but the film itself is reverent, and that was an aspect I really loved about the film,” Oyeolowo told TheWrap.

He continued: “I also loved the representation of us, [Black people], within that context. People don’t complain when they see a myriad of biblical depictions with Anglo Saxon people in the films. So considering our connections as Black people to faith, to Christianity, sort of felt like high time that we were represented in a film like this.”

Alongside Oyelowo in the cast of “The Book of Clarence” are Hollywood heavy hitters Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Omar Sy, Anna Diop, Alfre Woodard, Marianne Jean-Baptists, Teyana Taylor, Babs Olusanmokun, Michael Ward and more.

Playing the most notable of all Bible figures, Jesus Christ, is Nicholas Pinnock. Even the idea to feature a Black Jesus in a Hollywood film has seemingly been a point of contention for some. In an interview with film news platform MovieWeb, Oyelowo and Diop were asked what their thoughts were on “conservative people of faith being offended by the concept of a Black Jesus.” The award-winning actor pointed out the hypocrisy in those concerns, highlighting how white actors have long portrayed Biblical and historical figures.

“Well, I just hope they were as offended by Charlton Heston as Moses and Robert Powell as Jesus. You know, that’s all I have to say. I mean, we can stop it there,” Oyelowo said. “Jesus came for the entire world. And for us as Black people, you know, I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone just how much our culture, our race, has been impacted by Christianity as well. So this is our opportunity to tell our story through our perspective and our lens with our music and our bodies and our humor and our accents. And anyone who doesn’t like it can go and watch Charlton Heston.”

Samuel also shared the same sentiments in a separate interview with TheWrap highlighting how late Russian-born actor Yul Brynner was famous for playing characters of color on film despite not being a member of that cultural or racial background.

“Yul Brynner is one of my favorite actors in the history of mankind. But Yul Brynner is not Siamese to play the King of Siam, and he’s not Egyptian to play the Pharaoh,” Samuel said. “I mean, this guy is a man of many faces, but he’s not a man of many backgrounds.”

Moving away from what people outside of the film felt, Diop, who plays Clarence’s love interest Varinia, said there was nothing but feelings of joy and appreciation on set, as the cast celebrated seeing one another as members of the Black diaspora.

“It was such a transformative, riveting, engaging experience to be able to read the script and imagine Black bodies in the space,” Diop said. “We had actors from, I think, a big portion of the actors were British and of Nigerian descent. RJ Cyler, who is our No. 2, who plays Clarence’s best friend, is Black American. I was born in Senegal, raised in America. LaKeith, of course, is Black American. It was, and always is, for me, like a homecoming of sorts. It’s a really beautiful thing when we all come together from all different places and come together again, to make something like this.”

Oyelowo chimed in, going more depth about how Black representation was key for him joining the film.

“For me, that was a crucial component. Again, something I talked to Jeymes about, you know, in recent history, especially when it comes to historical films, I think there have been attempts to sort of draw a line between us and African Americans as Africans and Black Brits. But, this is a beautiful, as you say, representation of that diaspora, and a glimpse of what we are when we come together and we own the totality of Blackness,” Oyelowow said. “The totality of spirituality, culturally speaking. You have Alfre Woodard in there as well. You have Teyana Taylor. You have this real melting pot of who we are globally, and I think that’s something that I don’t think you get to see that often. ‘Black Panther’ may be the last time you sort of felt that vibe and could see culturally what that did. We want to see more of it.”

“The Book of Clarence” follows the journey of Clarence, a young man living in A.D. 33 Jerusalem who lacks faith but who seeks to find purpose in life. Down on his luck and struggling to pay a debt he owes, he opts to take advantage of the growing fame around a rising messiah named Jesus by misleading his community into believing he is the New Messiah in order earn a profit.

The film was written, directed and produced by Samuel and stars LaKeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Anna Diop, Omar Sy, David Oyelowo, Teyana Taylor, Babs Olusanmokun, James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch. Also serving as producers “The Book of Clarence” are Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, James Lassiter and Tendo Nagenda.

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