It has been nearly a decade and a half since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ took the box office by storm and set the tone for contemporary Bible-inspired films. Since the release of “the most artistically and commercially ambitious feature film about Jesus,” many high-budget films based on biblical characters and events, such as Noah, One Night With the King, and Exodus, have caught the attention of moviegoers. Riding the ongoing tide of momentum, a handful of Bible-inspired films will be heading to the big screen in 2018.
Set to be released in U.S. theaters February 16, 2018, Samson, tells the story of the eponymous Israelite from the book of Judges. The film is directed by Bruce Macdonald and Gabriel Sabloff, with Taylor James as Samson and Caitlin Leahy as Delilah. The film is produced by Pure Flix, the same studio known for producing God’s Not Dead.
Paul, Apostle of Christ
Produced by Affirm Films, Paul, Apostle of Christ stars James Faulkner as Paul and Jim Caviezel as Luke. Caviezel is most well-known for portraying Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ. The film follows Paul’s last days prior to his execution by Emperor Nero in Rome and tells the story about his conversion from a persecutor of the church to one of its foundational leaders. The film is scheduled to be released March 28, 2018.[emaillocker id=60875]
Directed by Garth Davis, Mary Magdalene tells the untold story of one of the most prominent women in the circle of Jesus’ disciples. Starring Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene, Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus Christ, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter, and Tahar Rahim as Judas, the film is set to portray a biopic of Mary beyond what’s found in the New Testament. Although the film was originally set to premiere March 30, its release date has been moved to an unspecified date in 2018.
Expectations and Representation
It’s uncertain whether Christians should express anticipation or antipathy towards these upcoming films. For instance, comments on YouTube for the trailers of these films express significant disparity of opinions. Yet, what can be said about these upcoming Bible-inspired films based on the information we have so far is that there is still progress to be made in terms of diversity and representation.
Although the Bible clearly identifies the characters of all of these films as Semitic people from the Middle East, these upcoming films as a whole continue Hollywood’s habit of whitewashing–replacing characters meant to be played by people of color with White actors and actresses. While it is refreshing to see another Bible-inspired movie with a female lead, and although Mary Magdalene cast several people of color in supporting roles, the title character is portrayed by a non-Jewish actress.
Whitewashing and a serious lack of diverse representation in the media has been found to be pervasive. But even more serious are the effects of the lack of representation, such as the decreased self-esteem of children who are underrepresented in the media and the phenomenon of “symbolic annihilation.” Disputing the lack of representation in the media is not a minor quibble about a harmless phenomenon.
While it is definitely possible that Christians can benefit from any of these and other upcoming Bible-inspired films, it’s clear that such films are not immune from the lack of representation plaguing Hollywood. Christians can continue to hope for future films that prioritize accurate and diverse representation over high ticket sales.