Ethnic diversity, or the lack thereof, in the new Bible movies

One of the issues that some people have had with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah — it was never a big-enough deal to become a full-fledged controversy, per se — concerns the ethnicity of the actors.

The film depicts the annihilation of the entire human race, except for one family that will go on to produce the entire human race as we know it today — so it seems a little odd to some people that pretty much every character we see in this film fits into a single ethnic category, i.e. Caucasian.

It seems even more odd when one considers that the human race originally had dark skin and then evolved lighter skin as some population groups “migrated away from the tropics . . . into areas of low UV radiation” and “developed light skin pigmentation as an evolutionary selection acting against vitamin D depletion.”

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The silence, justice, mercy and love of God in Noah

Questions of personal taste aside, most of the problems that people have had with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah don’t stand up to all that much scrutiny. Does the film reflect a Gnostic theology? Not at all. Is the snakeskin worn by Adam and his descendants necessarily evil in the Jewish tradition? Not at all. Were the righteous people who lived before the Flood vegetarian? Actually, yes. And so on, and so on.

The one complaint that arguably does have some merit is the one that says God does not speak in this film. God talks a lot in the biblical version of this story, but in the film he is silent, communicating through visions and signs that are open to more than one interpretation, and leaving some pretty crucial decisions to Noah himself.

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Noah at the movies — the article’s up!

My article on the portrayal of Noah in film is now up at CT Movies.

It looks at how the story of the Flood has been told — and, in a couple cases, modernized — in Noah’s Ark (1928), Green Pastures (1936), The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966), Genesis: The Creation and the Flood (1994), Testament: The Bible in Animation (1996), Noah (1998), Noah’s Ark (1999), Evan Almighty (2007) and, of course, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014).

It’s not an exhaustive list by any means — I would have liked to include a note about the three short Noah-themed Disney cartoons produced between 1933 and 1999, in particular — but I think I was pushing my word limit as it was.

Exclusive: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel on the meaning of “righteousness”, whether villains can believe in God, and the hurdles they faced when pitching Noah

My interviews with Darren Aronofsky: 1998 | 2014 pt 2 | 2014 pt 3 | 2014 pt 4

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and speaking to both Aronofsky and his co-writer/co-producer Ari Handel immediately after the screening. The following is part one of our conversation. The film comes out Thursday night.

I don’t know if I should admit this, but a copy of an early draft of your script drifted my way, so when I read it, I was struck by the justice and mercy theme, and it was really interesting to see that here in the finished film.

Darren Aronofsky: Well, that was a big part of the movie for us. I think when Ari and I started working on the project and we started reading the Bible over and over again, there’s this term where they call Noah “righteous,” and so what does that word mean? People sort of have a sense of what the word means, but there’s a lot of ways to define it when you really try to figure it out, and so we started talking to a lot of people and looking it up and tried to understand it, and a lot of the different theologians and scholars that talk about it, we came upon this idea that it was a perfect balance of justice and mercy.

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How do we define “wickedness” in biblical films?

If there was one theme linking the trailer and the TV spot for Noah that came out two days ago, it was “wickedness”.

Previous ads showed Methuselah telling Noah that mankind has earned the wrath of God because mankind has “corrupted this world and filled it with violence” — but yesterday’s ads pushed the language in an even more explicitly biblical direction.

The title card that opens the new trailer states: “At a time when wickedness was great in the world… so too was the response.” And the narrator in the new TV spot declares that the film takes place at a time when “wickedness ruled the hearts of men”.

This echoes the beginning of the biblical Noah story, which states: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

But what exactly did that wickedness consist of?

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Review: Noah’s Ark (dir. John Irvin, 1999)

Just about every kind of disaster film has appeared on screens big and small in the past few years, so it was only a matter of time before some producer turned to the Bible for inspiration. The result is Noah’s Ark, a two-part mini-series produced by Robert Halmi Sr., the renowned showman who has made it his mission to bring literary classics such as Gulliver’s Travels, The Odyssey and Moby Dick to TV sets everywhere.

Floods, volcanoes, meteors, tornadoes, shipwrecks — Noah’s Ark has it all. The film also begins with a glaring anachronism. In Genesis, the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah are not destroyed until hundreds of years after Noah’s lifetime. But in Halmi’s version, scripted by Peter Barnes, Noah (Jon Voight) is a native Sodomite, albeit a righteous one, who flees the town shortly before its destruction; his best friend Lot (F. Murray Abraham) also escapes, even though he is decidedly not righteous.

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