‘Re­vival!’ brings mostly black cast to movie de­pic­tion of Gospel of John

The Island Packet - - Lowcountry Life - BY ADELLE M. BANKS

For cre­ator Harry Len­nix, the new movie “Re­vival!” – a retelling of the Gospel of John with a mostly black cast – is a film whose time has come.

“I think to be able to imag­ine your­self as some­body like Christ is a great, pow­er­ful tool that has been de­nied us, not nec­es­sar­ily even from out­side sources,” said Len­nix, a black writer, pro­ducer and ac­tor in the film.

Nei­ther John nor the other gospel writ­ers de­scribe Je­sus’ skin color, but Len­nix, in an in­ter­view just af­ter the film’s world pre­miere Tues­day (Dec. 4) at the Mu­seum of the Bi­ble, said de­pict­ing him as a man of color is some­thing black peo­ple of­ten “don’t have the dar­ing to delve into, and that’s a shame.”

The movie, which fea­tures singers Chaka Khan as Hero­dias, Michelle Wil­liams as Mary Mag­dalen and Mali Mu­sic as Je­sus, opened Fri­day in 10 cities from New York to Los An­ge­les. It is ex­pected to ex­pand to more cities in Jan­uary.

Len­nix, co-star of NBC’s “The Black­list,” said the pro­duc­tion – which mixes on­stage, movie-set and tech­no­log­i­cal per­for­mances – was con­ceived at his New An­ti­och Church of God in Christ in Los An­ge­les, with an aim to in­clude spir­i­tu­als and gospel mu­sic.

“New An­ti­och is made up of mostly black peo­ple,” he said of the Pen­te­costal con­gre­ga­tion. “When it comes to singing that kind of mu­sic, it is vi­tal to have the au­then­tic voices.”

Len­nix’s twin goals for the look and the sound of the movie were met in his choice for the char­ac­ter of Je­sus. Mali Mu­sic is a Grammy-nom­i­nated gospel and R&B artist who added orig­i­nal songs to the movie, in­clud­ing “Not My Will,” sung in the Gar­den of Geth­se­mane as Je­sus con­tem­plates his pend­ing cru­ci­fix­ion.

“Act­ing as Christ and por­tray­ing Christ is so pow­er­ful, but por­tray­ing Christ in a mu­si­cal is even more be­cause no one thinks how he would sing,

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.”

TriCoast World­wide

Mali Mu­sic por­trays Je­sus in a scene from the new film “Re­vival!”

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