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.
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.
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Oscar Isaac’s star has been on the rise in recent years.
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?
The Passion of The Christ was an independent movie, paid for entirely out of Mel Gibson’s pocket. The Prince of Egypt was an animated film that emphasized the common ground between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Last Temptation of Christ was a low-budget art-house flick based on a heretical novel.
You would have to go back at least as far as King David, the mid-1980s box-office flop starring Richard Gere, to find another live-action movie produced by a major Hollywood studio and based directly on the Bible. And you would have to go back even further — to the bathrobe epics of the 1960s, at least — to find a mainstream biblical movie that was as blatantly Christian as The Nativity Story.