Today marks the tenth anniversary of the theatrical release of The Nativity Story — the first attempt by a big-ish Hollywood studio to replicate the box-office success that Mel Gibson had found two years earlier with The Passion of the Christ.
One year ago, Sony Pictures announced that they would be releasing The Lamb, an animated film about the first Christmas, on December 8, 2017. Then, two months ago, Sony announced that the film had a new title — The Star — but the release date was still the same. Now, however, it looks like the release date has changed, too.
If you’re a Bible-movie buff and a space-movie buff like me, then you can’t help but notice how the two genres sometimes overlap.
Fred Clark posted a really interesting item this morning, noting that “the true meaning of Christmas” can be found in a poem spoken by Mary not long after she learned that she was pregnant with the Son of God — and he notes that the poem in question has a significant political edge, in which the powerful are brought down from their thrones while the humble are lifted up, and the rich are sent away hungry while the poor are filled.
This got me curious as to how many films have actually reflected the edgier aspects of this poem, which is known as the Magnificat. And the answer is: not many. In fact, there are very few films that incorporate the Magnificat at all, and those that do usually cut out the more politically-charged stuff. Usually, but not always.
Three months ago, Ridley Scott noted that the actors he hired for Exodus: Gods and Kings represent a range of different ethnicities, and hardly anyone noticed. Last week, he made an off-the-cuff remark about how he couldn’t cast some obscure Middle Eastern actor as the lead in a massively expensive movie such as this, and the internet went berserk.
Scott’s comment was quickly assumed by many people to mean that he was justifying hiring an “all-white” cast. Many people claimed, dubiously, that it would be more historically accurate if the villainous Egyptian slave masters, many of whom are killed by an act of God at the Red Sea, were played by black actors instead. (Just think what sort of controversies there would be if the film had gone that route.)
Jonathan Merritt even went so far as to say today that no Bible movie — not even The Nativity Story, which cast a Maori girl as the Virgin Mary, a Palestinian as her mother and Iranians as her father and cousin Elizabeth — has made any progress when it comes to casting ethnically-appropriate actors. Apparently the fact that Keisha Castle-Hughes was born in Australia disqualifies that film somehow. Seriously?
Twelve years ago, Cliff Curtis played the father of Keisha Castle-Hughes in the acclaimed film Whale Rider.
Four years later, Castle-Hughes played the Virgin Mary in The Nativity Story.
Now comes word that Curtis may — may — be playing Mary’s son Jesus in Clavius, in which a Roman centurion investigates reports of the Resurrection.
It’s all speculation at this point. But Thompson on Hollywood, speaking to Curtis about another film at the Toronto film festival, mentions that Curtis is something of a method actor, and that he refuses to talk during interviews right now (though he will gesture with his hands and write notes on his laptop) because he is currently playing “a man of God … who speaks only of God,” in Curtis’s words.