History Channel’s “The Bible”: Does Race Really Matter?

the bible

This morning I finally got the chance watch the final installment of The History Channel’s groundbreaking new mini-series “The Bible. And let me say, I loved it! It had quality production value and was surprisingly Biblically accurate. All except one thing. The actors didn’t seem to accurately reflect the historical figures they were portraying.

I’ve been acting professionally (professionally meaning I’ve made little more than $1.00 acting) for a few years now. So, I have reviewed more than my share of casting calls. Most are very specific when it comes to the race of each character. Although, it is not uncommon for some roles to go to actors of other ethnic backgrounds. But one area where casting directors seem to hold firm to racial requirements are when it comes to historical projects.

A few years ago, a civil war movie was filming here in Sacramento at the State Capitol. Being a budding actor, I wanted to give it a shot as an extra. There was just one problem… There was no need for a Latino looking, Black man. I wasn’t white enough to be soldier or a legislator. But I wasn’t Black enough to be a slave (Not that they were casting many slaves for the scenes they were shooting here.)

The point is, race matters in movies… if the period being portrayed features those of European decent. Any other ethnicity, it doesn’t matter. There just seems to be something wrong with that. It’s not about affirmative action or anything like that. It just seems to me that if you are going to focus on being historically accurate, then that should include those portraying the characters of that time and culture.

I know right now, I’m driving some of my conservative friend crazy.

“Race doesn’t matter.”
“We should be a color-blind society.”
“Why do we need to divide ourselves?”

Sound familiar?

The truth is, race does matter. There was a time when Hollywood could get away with Elizabeth Taylor portraying an Egyptian (African) woman or Charlton Heston as as a Hebrew that was supposed to be dark enough to be thought an Egyptian (African) man. But that time is over!

There are tons of quality actors of varying ethnic backgrounds that could have filled these roles. Truth is, it’s not like the acting was all that fantastic. But Hollywood need’s to at least try to get actors who look like the characters they seek to portray.

Image how well “Les Misérables” would have been received if it featured an all Chinese cast. What if “Patriot” (one of my favorite “based on a true story” movies about the war for American independence) featured an all Latino cast? How seriously would you take these movies?

Yes, one can argue that some of the characters are fine as Europeans. But most? Really?

Consider the region we are talking about. Or how about the fact that the Bible actually describes Jesus as other than a blue eyed European with straight hair? I’m just saying…

If Hollywood can go out of it’s way to find race appropriate actors in for Eurocentric projects, let’s try a bit harder in those projects featuring peoples of other ethnic backgrounds; if for no other reason than historical accuracy.