Hot Jesus, Black Messiah, Suffering Son of God: How Jesus Films Shape Our Moral Imaginations

  • Author(s): Rebekah Eklund
  • When: 2017-04
  • Where: Journal of Religion & Film
  • This essay explores what is at stake in accurately representing Jesus as a first-century Palestinian Jew in Roman-occupied Judea. Jesus’ portrayal is important in relation both to historical accuracy and to symbolic value in terms of what whiteness (and non-whiteness) signify. Therefore, issues of accurately portraying Jesus apply in different ways to films that attempt to recreate first-century Palestine and to films that are modern reinterpretations of Jesus’ life. The essay also considers how the casting of the Jesus actor might affect the ability of audiences to identify with and imitate Jesus, especially in terms of Jesus’ solidarity with the poor and suffering. As examples, it highlights the creative possibility of films that take a blended or “hybrid” approach, integrating elements of the first century with the modern day. Finally, the essay makes the case that varied portrayals of Christ have the potential to shape viewers’ moral imaginations by inviting them to consider how they are both like and unlike Jesus in their own social locations.

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