Yesterday was the day when Eastern Orthodox Christians remember Gamaliel, the Jewish leader who defended the apostles before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5. So I thought it might be fun to take a quick look at how Gamaliel has been portrayed in film.
Remember Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus?
Last year, the National Geographic Channel teamed up with Ridley Scott’s production company to turn O’Reilly’s book into a TV-movie, just as they had done with his earlier books Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot.
Now comes word that they’re going to make their third project a little longer, and turn it into a four-hour mini-series that will begin production this summer and premiere sometime in 2015.
Hmm. You don’t suppose the enormous success of the mini-series The Bible last year — which led to this year’s Son of God on the big screen and next year’s A.D. on the NBC network — had anything to do with Killing Jesus getting more airtime, do you?
Meanwhile, a very different sort of TV show is set to premiere this year. The Hollywood Reporter says Aaron McGruder, creator of the animated comedy The Boondocks (2005-2010), is working on a live-action series called Black Jesus for the Adult Swim network, and the trade paper describes the premise thusly:
Mary Goes to the Movies / How the mother of Jesus has been portrayed through a century of filmmaking.
Making a movie about Jesus is difficult enough. Anyone who would dramatize the life of Christ must strike a fine balance between his full humanity and his full divinity, and many filmmakers have erred on one side or the other. But at least the Scriptures give us ample data to work with, and at least there is broad agreement across church boundaries that Jesus was, and is, both divine and human.
But making a movie about Mary poses even thornier challenges. The Bible says little about her life, so dramatists who focus on her life — such as the writer and director of The Nativity Story, which opens Friday — must invent whole aspects of her story from scratch. Even more daunting, for filmmakers who want to reach as broad an audience as possible, is the fact that different churches have strongly different views on Mary.
Was she as fallible as any other human being? Or was she free from the stain of sin? Did she bear any other children? Or did she remain a virgin throughout her life? Should Jesus ever be shown correcting her, possibly even offending her? Or, as the mother of Jesus, should she offer him any guidance and possibly correct him?
In 1961, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer produced King of Kings, the first major Hollywood film about the life of Christ since the silent era. The virgin Mary was played by Siobhan McKenna, a respected Irish actress in her late 30s, and the villainous Herod the Great was described by the narrator as “an Arab of the Bedouin tribe.”
Nearly half a century later, things have flipped around. The Nativity Story, produced by New Line Cinema (the same studio that made The Lord of the Rings), casts an Irishman as King Herod; and several of the supporting actors were born in primarily Muslim territories, such as Iran and Sudan, or can trace their family roots there.