Film challenges conventional notions about Jesus' race

SECOND THOUGHTS

June 30, 1993

The genesis of "The Second Coming" came with the verdict in the first Rodney King beating trial in Los Angeles last year, says actor Blair Underwood, who produced, co-wrote and stars in the short film that premiered at the Senator Theater Monday night.

"I was just blown away, flabbergasted, appalled," at the acquittal of four white police officers accused of beating the black motorist, said Mr. Underwood during an interview preceding the premiere.

The actor, who portrays attorney Jonathan Rollins on the NBC series "L.A. Law" and co-stars in the movie "Posse," said he has had racially tinged "encounters" with Los Angeles police and knows other black entertainers with similar experiences.

He said he remembers talking with friends after the verdict and saying, "even Christ, any man of color, could be treated the same way."

Intrigued, he approached acquaintances in show business for backing to make a film about the second coming of a Messiah of color. But he found "people were really reluctant to get involved."

So he made the movie himself, with a script he co-wrote with his brother, Frank Underwood Jr.

Initially, he said, distribution of the 30-minute film is planned "inevenings like this one." Two well-attended screenings and receptions at the Senator were organized by the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of the 9,000-member Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, after he saw Mr. Underwood discussing his film on "Donahue."

The film largely takes place "24 hours from now" in a mental institution, where Mr. Underwood portrays an abused inmate derisively called "Messiah man," who is accused of raping a 10-year-old white girl. Another inmate, however, falls to his knees before the man who calls himself Jesus, and the frankly reverential story proceeds down familiar prophetic paths.

Mr. Underwood appeared at the premiere with entertainer and long-time friend Lola Falana. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, greeted him and sought autographs for their children.

Mr. Underwood said similar events will take place across the country, and churches can acquire the movie for screenings. He said there are no plans now to air the movie on television.

However, Marilyn D. Harris-Davis, community affairs manager of United Artists Cable Television of Baltimore, which sponsored Monday's reception, said the local cable carrier would investigate staging another local screening for the general public.

Mr. Underwood said he wants viewers of "The Second Coming" to confront the idea that Jesus was a man of color, but to then "move beyond that and deal with this man and what he taught." The movie, Mr. Underwood said, is about tolerance.

He recalled that as a boy -- his family was first Methodist and then affiliated with the Southern Baptist denomination -- "I had always had, as most churches in the black community teach, the idea that Jesus was a man of color."

And the geographic location of the Bible makes it apparent, he said -- at least under the prejudicial notion that long prevailed in this country that any trace of black blood made a person of color.

"We don't know if he was dark skinned, or whether he had locks [dreadlocks, as does the Jesus in the film]," he told the screening audience.

"But unless Scandinavia or Europe found its way down into Jerusalem, he could not have had blond hair and blue eyes."

Was it difficult as a youngster to confront the prevailing images of Jesus?

Mr. Underwood started a couple sentences, but left them unfinished, shaking his head.

"Let me put it this way. Being black, being African-American in this country, you learn to deal with things a certain way."

Mr. Underwood said that as far as he knows, "The Second Coming" is the first film portraying Jesus as non-white, and said lTC "it's very important because it deals with the psyche of people of color."

Copies of the video are being sold through Quiet Fury Video, P.O. Box 349, Petersburg, Va. 23803. The cost is $24.95.

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