Sympathy for the devil

Viewers of “The Bible” mini-series believed Satan resembled President Obama.

by Hemang Sharma

Flipping through TV channels Easter Sunday, amid a candy coma, I chanced upon a scene involving Jesus coming back to life.

I guess I wasn’t fortunate enough to bear witness to the Second Coming of Christ because it was just the series finale of “The Bible” on the History Channel.

I immediately Googled it and was shocked to see that “The Bible” is causing controversy after casting an actor who resembles President Barack Obama as Satan — you know, the one that the Rolling Stones wrote a song about. I thought Google had linked me to a “mocumentary,” but I remembered Bill O’Reilly laughing it off with comedian Dennis Miller on his show whether the president is really “The Fallen One” as opposed to what the left deemed him, The Chosen One.

Even notorious right-winged talking heads Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh seem to agree with O’Reilly that the character looks like Obama, with Limbaugh calling it “uncanny” and a “dead ringer.”

I usually don’t pay any attention to any theological production, but “The Bible” has taken misrepresentation to a different level. Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, the actor who plays Satan, looks very little like Obama out of costume. Ouazanni  is a Moroccan actor, and does not remotely resemble the president racially. Yet in the series, one could justifiably make the comparison.

Both the History Channel and “The Bible” producers claim this was coincidental, saying, “It’s unfortunate that anyone made this false connection.” 

The producers of “The Bible” did not do this intentionally, though they probably should have spent more time editing. The problem here is the racial subtext of biblical interpretation. In the series, Jesus is played by Diogo Morgado, a white Portuguese actor. The subtext here is so blatant — Jesus is lighter-skinned, Satan is darker-skinned — that it becomes difficult to sympathize with the producers. You’d think that the viewers of the History Channel would not need these media-driven queues and would respect some realism. Christ wasn’t Caucasian, as the actor playing him is; Christ was a dark-skinned Jewish man. Obama would more readily resemble him, but I’ll leave the job of comparing Obama to Christ with the pundits at MSNBC.

Speaking of miracles, people are seeing another president in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” when a mask of George W. Bush was used as a severed head. To their credit, HBO apologized, citing the mask as the only available cut out during filming. While the distinction is not as obvious, the History Channel and “The Bible” producers should follow suit.

As a film major, I understand the need to make characters embody “evil” for maximum effect. But I also understand the tremendous complications that go along with racial misrepresentation: Arabs as terrorists, blacks as thugs, Jewish people as greedy — is this not old?

These representations may have real effects. “A picture speaks a thousand words. Any questions?” read a controversial tweet earlier this week by Robert Zimmerman Jr. He is  the brother of George Zimmerman, who was charged with shooting Trayvon Martin in April 2012, which was believed to be a result of Martin’s racial identity and clothing.  The tweet had a picture showing Martin next to a black teen suspected of shooting a baby in an attempted robbery.

For an industry that seems to be making attempts at inclusivity, Hollywood has its regressions. In a country where our president has been accused of being the Antichrist, the media needs to be aware of the representations they perpetuate.