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The Passion of the Christ is offensive. Though set 2,000 years ago in Palestine, the film is peopled with Anglo actors. We all look back now and cringe at the spectacle of Sir Laurence Oliver’s blackface portrayal of Othello in 1965; today, the public would rightfully be appalled by such a caricatured interpretation of the Moor of Venice. I hope it will be sooner than a generation from now before Americans feel the same outrage when Brown and Black-skinned Middle Easterners are depicted on screen by anyone other than, well, Brown and Black-skinned Middle Easterners. As William Rivers Pitt put it: “Jesus looked a lot more like an Iraqi, like an Afghani, like a Palestinian, like an Arab, than any of the paintings which grace the walls of American churches from sea to shining sea.”
But despite this disappointing, yet unsurprising distortion, those who see this movie (whether or not they agree with Gibson’s portrayal of Jesus and whether or not they believe in any god at all) will be moved by the story of a man who was humiliated, relentlessly beaten, tortured, and finally put to death for political motives. The spectacle of the injustice will anger and the sight of Yeshiva’s mother helplessly looking on will be heart wrenching.
There are many modern day scenarios that parallel to Gibson’s Jesus’s last twelve hours of life; we would have no problem casting the roles for our own present day Passion. The trouble would be narrowing down the nominations to a select many:
Pontius Pilate: Typical Democrat. Wets his finger, sticks it in the air to measure the political winds of fickle public opinion only to throw the most vulnerable to the wolves.
Today’s Pilate could have been: John Kerry signing on to Bush’s War in Iraq; John Kerry signing on to Bush’s Tax cuts; Al Gore pushing through welfare “reform”; Al Gore making NAFTA happen; Al Gore making his 1992 statement that abortion was, “the taking of an innocent life”; Al Gore doing everything he has done his entire political career.
Pilate could have also been: Bill Clinton “reforming” welfare and ramming through NAFTA; Bill Clinton questioning the constitutionality of the “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act” immediately before signing it; Bill Clinton admitting for the first time (AFTER he left office) that the public was unaware of the suffering of the Palestinian people; Bill Clinton doing everything that he has done his entire career.
But my nomination for the role of Pontius Pilate would have to be: Bill Clinton for his showing that he has what it takes to watch a defenseless man die. Like Pilate (who washed his hands and looked on as Jesus marched to his death), in 1992, then-Governor Bill Clinton, while on the campaign trail, flew to Arkansas to oversee the death of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally retarded man. On the last night of his life, Rector wanted to save his dessert for later.
Hedonistic, Scornful Romans who Mocked Jesus: Bill O’Reilly; Sean Hannity, any talking head on cable TV; Tom Brokaw for calling for immigration control from the anchor desk after September 11. But the one most fitting for this role would be Colin Quinn, the host of that pathetic, sorry excuse for a comedy/talk show: Comedy Central’s Tough Crowd. Mr. Quinn has mocked concerns raised about the rights of detainees at Guatanamo Bay and concerns raised about the legitimacy of their imprisonment.
Simon/Peter: The Queen of Denial, Carol Moseley Braun for dancing with dictator, Sani Abacha
The role of Judas will be shared by both Christopher Hitchens and David Horowitz: enough said.
Satan: Bush, Ariel Sharon.
Jesus: The Iraqi people; the Afghani women that the mainstream feminist movement sought to “liberate” by bombing; all who live under illegal occupations; all women who are sick of all of the sexism of all of the men listed above; those detained at Guatanamo Bay; those declared “enemy combatants”; poor people; working people; pregnant Palestinian women who die in labor at checkpoints; people on death row; children; people of color; LGBT communities; sweatshop workers, all oppressed people.
Mary: The mothers of those oppressed people, and those who do what they can to inform the public about those who are voiceless, but they aren’t heard because they are drowned out by this country’s Hedonistic, Scornful Romans; Judases; and Pontius Pilates who want to make a stink over a film about a man who was killed 2,000 years ago. Who the hell cares about those being tortured and killed today?
Christians have every right to see Jesus as the Son of God and they have every right to cry as they walk out of the theatre after seeing what their Messiah endured. The Passion of the Christ is a difficult film for us non-believers to watch because we know that very few directors will give names, faces, or time on the screen to those who are suffering and dying for political reasons now. Maybe if Christians saw what color their Messiah really was, it would bring society closer to seeing the faces of some of those who endure cruelty in the present day. Thomas Mountain said it in his February 27 CounterPunch article: “How could white people hate people of color if they were taught Jesus would pass for black if he were to rejoin us today?”
BRANDY BAKER can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org