(RNS) The new “Noah” movie has everything you’d expect in a biblical blockbuster.

The poster for "Noah" the movie. Photo courtesy of Grace Hill Media

The poster for “Noah” the movie. Photo courtesy of Grace Hill Media


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Big Hollywood stars. Extravagant special effects. An apocalyptic flood. There’s even a few rock monsters for good measure.

But the Rev. Wil Gafney sees something missing: a hint of ethnic diversity.

“In this version of Noah, black people do not exist,” she said.

While much of the conversation about the “Noah” film has focused on theology and the degree to which it strays from the biblical text, few people seem to notice the all-white cast, said Gafney, an Episcopal priest and associate professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

That’s worrisome, she said, especially at a time when the United States is becoming more and more multiethic.

“I hoped that at least there would be some beige people in the movie,” she said. “But there was no one visibly of color.”

Add to that the so-called “Curse of Ham,” a troubling Bible passage from Genesis. It tells how Noah settled down after the flood and planted a vineyard. One night he got drunk and his son Ham saw him naked, a taboo in the ancient world.

Noah curses his son Ham, and Ham’s descendants, including his son Canaan. That Bible passage, also known as the “Curse of Canaan,” was originally understood to justify the subjection of the Canaanites to the Israelites. In later centuries, the narrative was interpreted as an explanation for black skin, and in the United States, as a biblical justification for slavery. White Christian slaveholders argued that Africans were descendants of Ham, and therefore cursed by God.

The new film strays from the Genesis account of the confrontation between Ham and Noah, said Gafney, so there’s no curse.

Instead, she said, the movie simply erases people of color from the story.

Efrem Smith, president of Los Angeles-based World Impact, a Christian nonprofit, and author of “The Post-Black and Post-White Church,” sees “Noah” as part of a pattern.

Poster art for "The 10 Commandments" movie (1956).

Poster art for “The 10 Commandments” movie (1956). Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In the past, biblical epics such as the 1956 classic “The Ten Commandments” featured white actors playing Moses and Pharaoh. Smith said that he’d hoped for something more authentic in this movie.

“When it come to films on Bible stories and biblical figures, we are going back to the days of Charlton Heston,” he said.

Smith said he respects pastors that encourage people to see the film. But he wished they’d been a bit more critical of it, especially on the issue of race.

The Bible, he said, is the most multicultural piece of literature that most people will ever read. So a film about the Bible should reflect that diversity, he said.

But recent films about Bible characters, such as “Noah,” “Son of God,” and a planned version of the Exodus story starring Christian Bale, star white actors in leading roles.

Smith finds that disappointing.

“We need sensitivity from our evangelical brothers and sisters about how white images of Bible figures have impacted people of color in the past,” he said. “We are too comfortable with a white biblical narrative.”

Nashville, Tenn.-based writer and speaker Trillia Newbell, author of “United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity,” also was concerned about the lack of diversity in “Noah.”

Seeing Jesus or Noah or other biblical characters portrayed by white actors has consequences.

“It shapes how you read the Bible,” she said. “Every time you pick up the Bible, those are the images you see.”

The Rev. Enoch Fuzz of Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville, said too many Christians don’t pay attention when it comes to diversity. It’s like a blind spot, he said.

“We want heaven to be a place of diversity — and then we don’t see it when it is missing here on earth,” said Fuzz.

Some of his pastor friends had encouraged him to see “Noah,” in hopes of getting people to talk about the Bible. But he’d decided to skip it, because of the lack of diversity in the cast.

Anthea Butler, a blogger and associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said the filmmakers seemed to treat the story of Noah more like a science fiction story such as “The Lord of the Rings” than a retelling of a biblical tale.

That may explain why the cast doesn’t fit the movie’s setting in the Middle East, she said.

But their casting decisions send a troubling message, she said.

“It’s a world where only white people get saved,” Butler said. “This doesn’t look like the world that God created.”

Butler suspects that filmmakers may have made a major marketing error.

A new report from the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture found that African-Americans are the most likely to read the Bible. So they care about Bible stories and may be turned off by this new “Noah” movie.

“Black women carry their Bibles around and read them all the time,” she said. “And they cannot see themselves in this movie.”

She had some advice for Hollywood producers looking for the next biblical blockbuster.

“If someone wants to make a ton of money right now, they should go out and remake ‘The Queen of Sheba.’”

YS/AMB END SMIETANA

35 Comments

  1. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Not all Christians should be blamed for spreading the so-called “Curse of Ham.” evil theory of Biblical interpretation. It was a Protestant phenomenon and not part of official Catholic teaching or Catholic culture although some Catholics picked up this Biblical interpretation from the surrounding Protestant culture.
    In fact, Catholic Louisiana had slavery, but still considered Blacks as full human beings and in some cases even provided education for them while they could be executed for learning to read in many Biblical fundamentalist Protestant areas of the South where the Ham doctrine prevailed.

      • Louisiana had sugar plantations. The most labor intensive and lethal form of slavery at the time. Slave deaths from work were vastly higher than cotton or tobacco farming. They may have learned to read, but their lifespan on the plantation was rather short and brutal.

        Christianity gave a pretext to treating people as property. More a symptom than a cause. People use religion to justify beliefs rather than get beliefs from it.

    • The idea that slavery of blacks is justified by the Bible was present with Christian commentators from the start of Christianity all the way through to modern times. Christians for millienia have seen this as clear due to Ham’s son cush, who’s very name (Cush) literally means “black”. That’s why black skin has been known throughout Christian history as “the curse of Ham”. Jerome, in his Homilies (#1, chapter 3, verse 28) stated that the souls of black people are as dark as their skins. Those who supported the enslavement of blacks because of the curse of from Noah include Jerome (from whom Protestants claim reason for taking some books out of their Bibles), Origin, Augustine, Chrysostom, and many others. This makes it easy to explain why many Popes not only approved of slavery, but had slaves themselves.

      Both Protestants and Catholics saw the reading of Noah’s curse on the father of the blacks (Ham was the father of the start of the black race, “cush”) as being obvious, and even people like George Whitefield (who started the American Great Awakening in America) used it to justify slavery, as did Charles Spurgeon – both of them being important Protestant Christian writers.

      And it’s not just Noah, but throughout most Bibles. The 10th commandment makes it clear that a slave is one’s property, just like a house or livestock, there are many regulations that allow slavery in the old testament, including making it clear that it’s OK to beat slaves – as long as they don’t die (Ex21:20). Jesus himself talks about slaves being beaten, never saying anything is wrong with that, and Paul makes it clear that slaves are to obey their masters. Jefferson Davis and the other slaveholders had their Bibles to back them up. There are many more verses showing that slavery is OK in the Bibles, too many to discuss here. Slavery is evil, and whether we are Christian or not, we need to face the fact that the Bibles allow slavery.

      When Christianity appeared and became dominant, slavery didn’t end – in fact, it increased with the Native American slave trade from 1500 -1700, then with the African slave trade from 1600-1800. If Christianity or the Bibles didin’t allow slavery, we wouldn’t have seen that. It wasn’t until the Enlightenment ideas of the freedom of individuals began to become more common, the late 16 to 1700s, that slavery of blacks, and the curse of Ham, began to be questioned. Luckily, a few of the liberal Protestant denominations took that up, and began to publically question the Curse of Ham, only then.

      • Stop lying. Slavery of Blacks and Africans started in 1492…at the latest. It lasted from 1492 until the 1900s in the Americas. Slavery in Europe was in full swing in 1492. Christopher Columbus had slaves , and brought them on this second voyage.
        Slavery started in the Bahamas, Jamacia, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and other islands.

      • There was no Native American slave trade from 1500 -1700. I repeat it never happened. Stop lying. Stop it just stop it. They were not strong enough to do the work and not to mention the diseases from the whites that killed them. The whites knew Africans and worked with African for centuries so we never got sick from them because they come from us. We are their ancestors.
        Furthermore, slave masters said where is the most diverse place on the planet??? AFRICA! Its beautiful, but it has the worst conditions known to man that you could live in! So we are tough! We lived there and still thrive there!

        • God did not curse Ham. Noah did, but it didn’t happen. He was just mad.

          HAM OR NO ONE ELSE WAS MADE BLACK OR DARK OR SHAMEFULLY ELONGATED LOL.

          The Pope and other slave masters knew and know and there is no Ham curse. And they just wanted to justify slavery. They knew the truth would come out and even if the trick worked for only 500 years they were cool with that because they got rich.

          If Ham was cursed but never turned Black to begin with and his son Canaan and his descendants are black, which in fact means Ham was already Black.
          Then it is also a fact that since Canaan was Black he was so because his father Ham was Black, and Ham was Black because his Father Noah was Black and so were Noah’s children were also Black.

          Yeah Boyyyyyyyyyyyy!

          info@iambrandbrand.com

          • Noah believed God, and was found faithful. Ham treated his own father Noah shamefully when Noah made wine and got drunk and sinned in his behavior. Noah stated a prophecy about Ham through his curse. A curse which came true as God allowed Ham and his descendants to carry on in their sin and reap the consequences that ensued.

  2. “Noah curses his son Ham, and Ham’s descendants, including his son Canaan. That Bible passage, also known as the “Curse of Canaan,” was originally understood to justify the subjection of the Canaanites to the Israelites. In later centuries, the narrative was interpreted as an explanation for black skin, and in the United States, as a biblical justification for slavery. White Christian slaveholders argued that Africans were descendants of Ham, and therefore cursed by God.”
    The problem with these interpretations is that they have no Scriptural (Biblical) foundation. Obviously men used these unbiblical interpretations to justify their evil intent.
    A couple of things from the account of Noah (not the movie) is that we don’t know what color Noah and his family were. What we do know is that all the races of the world today came from Noah’s line.
    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com

    • What color Noah was? He probably did not exist, so he can be any color you want. A lot of people take the story literally. It is impossible. There is not that much water on the planet.

      Now there are other flood stories. Gilgamesh is one, and probably served as the source of the Noah story. In any case, if there were a great flood, it was probably the inundation of the Black Sea basin after the end of the last ice age. It is conceivable that it made such an impact that stories about it carried on for thousands of years.

      • 2 Peter 3, 3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

        • When slavery arrived in the American Colonies, it was the Northern shipping ports and merchants that grew this business in human trafficking as it is called in today’s PC verbiage. They sold the slaves into the south.

          It is a fact that the first slave owner in the south was a black man and two of his slave were white men enslaved as punishment for violation of their work contract for passage to the new world. 50% of the slave owners in the south were freed men from Africa practicing a habit which was culturally familiar to them from their African roots.
          600,000 whites died in the Civil War which resulted in the end of legalized slavery in the USA and primarily forced the Southern States to give up their constitutionally gauranteed sovereignty to the Northern Aggression.
          Reparations in blood have already been paid to eliminate slavery and free both black and white from legalized slavery.

    • There are some things about slavery in the Americas that US citizens are not taught. On the southern continent the “natives” practiced enslavement thru conquest. Caribbean tribes practiced head hunting and enslavement. This is what Europeans found when they got and what the Spanish were practicing at the time having learned the practice from Islamic Caliphate brought about from the Islamic crusades into Spain (Iberia).
      Slavery was in place in all Societies prior to the discovery of the West Indies.
      It is shameful to blame slavery on the Bible, Judaism or Christianity, All nations practiced it well before Christ who message was Freedom from the enslavement of Sin which drove the idea of Freedom from enslavement to Sinful governments and other sinful and powerful men and their monarchies.

  3. Race was not the big deal back then that it is now, it wouldn’t have even been mentioned except in descriptions of the person, like in poetry, or in noting where someone was from geographically. It would have been entirely appropriate to diversify the cast. It also would have been smart.

  4. The erasure of black characters is typical of Hollywood. It is also an example of White Privilege, the assumption that all things white are normal and the way they always have been, and that anything different is out of the norm.

  5. Filmwise there is a bit of an unwritten convention for ancient epics where British actors played Romans and Americans for those under Roman heels.

    All bets are off when dealing with Charlton Heston and the new set of British actors these days who know how to do convincing American accents.

  6. The people quoted in this article seem to be bothered that no person of color was saved on the ark. Who would be that person of color? Would it logically be the wife of Ham, a descendant of Cain? If Aronofsky had done that, there would be a cry against him for perpetuating this old Protestant story. So he’s damned that he didn’t, but would have been damned if he did. There’s no way to win this one.

  7. The Noah movie was well made and acted except for many details that are not correct, such as; there were no “rock people”, the wicked angels and people who were opposed to God did not help build the ark, Noah was not a mad man who wanted to kill his family members or anyone else, there were eight adults that were on the ark who were a total of four couples, there was no crazy man hiding in the ark, Noah’s son did not desire to kill him, the children born after the deluge were not born on the ark, but later on. Noah knew that humans would populate the earth after the flood instead of having some futile idea that they were the last people.

  8. Actually, the curse of Ham does not exist. Noah cursed Canaan, not Ham. The bible says, Noah awoke and knew what “his” younger son had done. Who’s younger son? Ham’s younger son. Canaan is Ham’s younger son, and there Noah’s younger son (grandson). Ham just happened to discover the result of what Canaan had done, and in desperation, he went out and told his brothers (which is why they were cautious enough to enter in Noah’s tent, backwards). Please have used the wrong perspective to read the story of Noah.

  9. Yeah well too bad. It is not biblically accurate either. It simply promotes the Eco terrorist and communist agenda of the Hollywood atheist secularist Jews that put it together.

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