Opinion: Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are Much Too Professional to Intentionally Make Satan mimic Obama

People get a little loopy when religion is involved.

A very silly tempest in a teapot happened Sunday night when folks on Twitter started noticing that the character of Satan in the History Channel’s The Bible bore a striking resemblance to our Commander in Chief. 

Personally, I do think that Satan, played by Mohamen Mehdi Quazanni (see a picture of him without makeup here) looks a lot like Obama. It’s weird because the actor is light skinned and not of African descent, but he does have features resembling Obama’s and with the makeup, the similarity becomes striking.

But that’s where this whole thing should have died. With a shrug and a “isn’t life odd?” chuckle.

There is absolutely no chance that The History Channel and producers Roma Downey or Mark Burnett (read their response to the hubbub here) had any intent of making Satan look like Obama. None.

How do I know?

Well, the couple is too Hollywood to make such an error or statement.

That may sound like an insult, but it’s not.

Roma Downey, of course, was the lead angel in the TV show Touched by an Angel. Burnett is the mastermind behind such TV hits as Survivor, The Apprentice, and Shark Tank. I have spoken with Downey several times (here and here). She is many things: polished, intentional, even a bit slick. But she is a consummate professional and not somebody who would sabotauge her reputation by taking pot shots at the President. I have not interviewed Burnett, but if anything, he’s even more professional. In fact, there is no evidence that either one of them has anything but the highest regard for Obama. Burnett donated money to his election campaign, a common practice in Hollywood.

Furthermore, behind all the packaging and promoting, The Bible was a passion project for both Downey and Burnett. Downey spoke many times about her dream of bringing her faith to her work. She was thrilled to be in a position where she could choose projects that reflected her faith.

“I have reached a point in my career where I don’t have to work,” she told me, “I have a lot of gratitude. I have a choice. I can do projects that are positive and honor God.”

In case any of us have missed the memo, nobody gets kudos or enhanced reputation in Hollywood by being religious or doing religious projects, especially old-fashioned Christian projects. In fact, it almost always costs something.

Downey and Burnett have paid their dues in Hollywood, and then some. They have worked hard and built reputations and relationships. They’ve done the hard work of being successful in a town where success can be hard to come by. And they turned around and poured that capital they had built into a Bible project.

Kudos to them. We should all be so lucky. We should all be able to say we’d built something that mattered as they have.

So, no, no one involved in that miniseries intended for the Devil to look like Obama. They worked too hard and cared too much to throw away their reputation and the project’s reputation on a cheap potshot.

It’s a coincidence.

Everybody stand down.

And, whatever you think of The Bible, give Roma Downey and Mark Burnett a pat on the back for at least being in a position to bring such a work to the small screen. It’s much more than the rest of us can say.

For more on The Bible:

Peter Chattaway reviews the first episode of The Bible.

Peter Chattaway reviews the second episode of The Bible.

 Craig Detweiler on how Hollywood underestimates religious audiences

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey

  • Ivory

    I cannot believe they or someone on the production team didn’t see the resemblance to President Obama. Intentional statement of their beliefs. No credibility for series. Shame on them using the standard conservative schtick of cloaking malice in Scripture.

    • CJ

      Why would they even be looking for a resemblance. And it’s only a superficial resemblance at that. As one of my friends pointed out, when the pre-incarnate Jesus appeared to Joshua in a Theophanes in the previous episode, the actor looked a lot like Morpheus from “The Matrix” (Laurence Fishburne.)

      • Charlotte Taylor

        The devil did not look like Obama – God said He made him beautiful – with sounding pipes – he was and is a son of God – he just thought he was smarter than God and took the evil path. Obama is not beautiful and does not have great sounding pipes – guaranteed! Though he may have the mentality of satan………..

        • Morgan

          “Obama is not beautiful.” True, because men are considered handsome. As for having the mentality of Satan, I’m sure you’d know Charlotte. The Grand Dragon is as close to Satan as Earth will ever know.

  • Doug

    Um, check again. I have it from three separate authorities that the actor is indeed Moroccan. You say he is not of African descent. Unless they moved Morocco out of Africa, then you are wrong. Again, I don’t know for sure. I haven’t seen the actor’s birth certificate (ha!) but three separate sources are saying he’s Moroccan.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Yes. I’ve seen that too. When I was writing my pieces, much less was known about him, but apparently he is Moroccan. I should have been more specific in my language, because of course, I meant “black” or even the dreaded “Negroid.” But I didn’t know how to say that inoffensively. I still don’t. His appearance is much more in line with European or Middle Eastern race characteristics than African races. Isn’t it funny how language can define certain ideas and then leaves you hanging when the going gets tough?

    • Doug

      You could call him a light-skinned African, I guess. Or just a Moroccan, as others have done. But what you’ve written is inaccurate. Anyway, the fact that they hired a light-skinned man and blackened his skin, kind of belies your point, doesn’t it. As a man, he looks nothing like Obama. In his role (and you admit this yourself) he looks almost identical to Obama. Which implies to me as much intent in the filmmakers’ motives, as if they had hired an Obama impersonator to play the part.

      Regardless, the idea that nobody on that film’s production, let alone the actor himself, noticed the resemblance we all see so readily, seems unlikely to me.

    • Rowwdy Colt

      Africa is a CONTINENT. Morocco is not a black country on that CONTINENT. Just like Egypt isn’t either. They not “light skinned” blacks either. They have a somewhat swarthy complexion, but darn sure not part of the n e e g r o i d race.

      The resemblance is pure fabrication. Thin skinned people who see what they want to see. Take a look at his pic without make-up.

      • Paul Hue

        North vs Sub-Saharan Africa might as well be two different continents. The histories and peoples are very, very different. Some Sub-Saharan Africans over the eons have migrated to the North. They and their descendants contributed to thriving civilizations, some even becoming pharaohs. But below the ocean desert, the people there never developed much… not that that can’t change, as western civilization unravels and disintegrates.


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