Black Messiah draws praise from audience

June 30, 1993|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Staff Writer

In yesterday's Today section, a photo caption incorrectly identified Stanley L. Mitchell, an administrator at Morgan State University, as the Rev. Frank M. Reid III.

The Sun regrets the error.

If the objective of "The Second Coming" was to get folks talking, then it was a rousing success.

Most of the short film, which "L.A. Law" actor Blair Underwood produced, co-wrote and starred in, takes place "24 hours from now." Mr. Underwood plays a young, black Jesus in flowing dreadlocks who is committed to an asylum for the criminally insane after being falsely accused of raping a young white girl.

The film with the controversial plot line was screened Monday for one night only in Baltimore at the Senator Theater.

The movie was warmly received, although many said after seeing it they wished it were longer and a few were disturbed by what they called biblical "inaccuracies."


"It was a great movie and one for making people want to seek out more knowledge," said the Rev. Frank M. Reid III whose church, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal, sponsored the two sold-out shows at the theater. "What this movie is really all about is dialogue-- making people discuss things like the Rapture and the Second Coming."

"I felt it was very inspiring, striking and unique," said Rev. Emily Richardson, a pastor at Ebenezer Fellowship Chapel in Baltimore.

Tale holds the unexpected

But for some, seeing Jesus placed in an insane asylum wassurprising.

Lonnie Carr, who praised the short film, also said, "it was kind of heavy. I was not expecting the insane asylum. I was expecting him to be out on the street more." He is the president of 100 Black Men, an advocacy organization that tutors and mentors African-American youth.

"It needs to be seen by more kids," said Mary Williams, a staff assistant at the Social Security Administration said.

"A lot of us adults are set in our ways. But It will open up a lot of eyes and make African-Americans look more at their heritage and stress their roots."

"Kids are our future," said Stanley L. Mitchell, an administrator at Morgan State University. "We need to take this to the street corners where people are hanging out!"

"I haven't totally digested what I saw yet, but it was interesting," said Deborah Bass, a loan officer who saw the film with three friends. "The idea of putting in a dark-skinned Jesus will probably instill a lot of pride."

No one claims to know exactly how dark Jesus's skin was, but more people are acknowledging that he was a man of color, said Cain Hope Felder, a professor of biblical studies at Howard University, in a phone interview.

"The idea that Jesus was a person of color is being accepted by certain sectors of the church," said Dr. Felder, who served as a consultant to the film and is the author of "Troubling Biblical Waters: Race, Class and Family" (Orbis Books, 1989).

European influence

Picturing Jesus as pale-skinned grew from Europe's strong influence on American culture, explained Eugene Lovering, assistant executivedirector of the Society of Biblical Literature, an academic organization of 6,000 biblical scholars.

"Look at the art of cultures around the world," Mr. Lovering said during a telephone conversation from his office in Decatur, Ga.

"Very frequently, art is portrayed in the images of the people around them. For instance, in China, you see a Chinese Jesus. So it is not unusual that here, we would have portrayed Jesus as a white male, given that European culture is so predominant," Mr. Lovering said.

But things are changing.

"We are becoming more aware that Christianity cannot be reduced to whatever the cultural leanings are. And African-American people are bringing that to our attention," said Mr. Lovering, who is white.

The Society of Biblical Literature does not take a position on the ++ color of Jesus. "With an organization of scholars, our opinions are as diverse as our scholarships," Mr. Lovering noted.

Emotional but not historical

Some people who saw the film Monday objected, not to a black Jesus figure, but to how the Bible was interpreted.

"If the purpose of the movie was to show that black people are in the Bible -- I say 'right on.' If the purpose of the movie was to break down the notion that Jesus was blond and blue-eyed, I say, 'right on.' But from a theological historical context, it was not accurate," says the Rev. Russell Priddy, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church.

"Historically, it was totally inaccurate but emotionally very appealing, especially for African-Americans," said Wendall Ward, pastor of Belvedere Baptist Church.

Others said that to criticize the movie's accuracy is to miss the point.

"Blair was making a contemporary interpretation of the Bible," Dr. Felder said.

"It was not intended to give a literal story of the Bible but to maketheological points: first that Jesus was a person of color -- although he may not have been as dark as Blair Underwood or looked like him.

"The second is that if Jesus were to come back to earth today, he would probably be treated as lowly now as he was then."

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