what words it would be, how his voice would be,” Music said before the premiere, attended by 350 faith, business and community leaders.
In addition to Music’s and other contemporary gospel tunes, spirituals are used to accompany the story: “Down By the Riverside,” in the scene where Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist; “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” as Mary and Martha share a short-lived grief over the death of their brother Lazarus; and “Wade in the Water.” During the latter, dancers surround an onstage boat and use blue strips of fabric to simulate waves as Jesus walks on water.
Lennix said he chose the Gospel of John in part because it was the poetic book that included “dense imagery” that was “perfect for film,” with the wedding at Cana – where Jesus is said to have turned water into wine – and the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
The former Catholic seminary student – Lennix had considered joining the priesthood – cited Romans 8, which speaks of conforming to God’s image, as a key motivation for the people who partnered on “Revival!”
“That’s a mighty thing: ‘So that you can be conformed to look like him in his image,’ and nobody does that with us,” Lennix said of black people. “So I’ve taken the liberty.”
T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh plays Rebah, a female member of the Sanhedrin, the traditionally male tribunal of rabbis, who calls for Jesus’ death. She embraced the focus on what she called “the color correction” of the film.
“It’s not colorblind casting, in my opinion; it is correct,” said Keymáh, who was an original cast member of the sketch comedy series “In Living Color.” “The people of that time were brown, so this is, to me, not a black version of something. It’s just telling of a story.”
“Revival!” is not the first time a predominantly black cast has recounted biblical stories. Playwright Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity,” which premiered more than a half-century ago, was adapted as a 2013 movie that mostly focused on the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
More than a decade ago, Lennix played a Pharisee – in the three gospels other than John – as part of an all-black cast of voices for the audio Bible “Inspired By … The Bible Experience.”