With its series The Bible, the History channel has mesmerized television viewers like never before, earning record ratings in the process. Despite the network’s lofty vision, some media outlets have critiqued the resemblance between the actor who plays Satan and U.S. President Barack Obama, while the producers have dismissed these accusations. In addition to this Satan-Obama link, however, the series suffers from other problems, of which ULC ministers should be aware, pertaining to the unsavory way it has been conveyed to the public.
Viewers took to the Internet to question the uncanny resemblance between President Obama and the Satan character, played by Moroccan actor Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni. During the airing of the Sunday, 17 March episode, Twitter erupted with tweets on the similarities between the two figures, and, soon after, several Web sites had posted a photograph of Ouazanni adjacent to a photograph of Obama, the faces of both etched in a wrinkled grimace. According to The New York Times, the comparisons were largely a response to recent attacks on the President by some religious conservatives who have compared him to the Antichrist.
The producers of the series, husband and wife team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, were quick to dismiss the comparisons as preposterous. The Times also quoted Downey as calling the accusations “absolute, utter nonsense,” adding that she did not see them coming. To the credit of their stance, Burnett and Downey do not appear to harbor ill feelings toward Obama—in fact, quite the opposite. Downey was scheduled to visit Obama on March 17th as a guest at a White House event celebrating women in history, while Burnett has donated money to Obama’s campaigns, the Times also reports. Is it reasonable, then, for ordained ministers, or anybody else for that matter, to accuse the series’s production team of attempting to demonize the president?
Even if the resemblance was coincidental, the series has still raised questions about race in the minds of viewers. “Why’s Jesus and the good guys always white and the devil’s looking like Obama?” asked a young girl watching the series at a recreation center in Norfolk, Virginia, where Lisa Suhay of The Christian Science Monitor teaches chess as a way to enhance life skills. According to Suhay, an older girl replied, “[w]hite people make everything white.” Thus, while racial stereotyping may be unintentional, young viewers still sense subliminal racial messages in the way the characters are cast, and this is something Universal Life Church ministers should carefully consider.
But the problems surrounding The Bible go beyond race; they also involve religion. In an attempt to refute the accusations of a Satan-Obama link, Burnett insisted that “[t]he president is a fellow Christian,” reports the Times. The problem with this statement is that it implies the Satan-Obama link would have been acceptable if Obama were not Christian, but it should not matter what the man’s religion is—leaving viewers with the impression that there is a connection between evil and a person’s race is irresponsible regardless of that person’s religion. As most ministers ordained online will agree, religion is no excuse for sloppy and insensitive casting.
Burnett and Downey seem to have the best intentions in mind bringing the story of The Bible to people’s television screens, but are good intentions enough? As Suhay points out in her article, the History channel “is suffering to get its message heard above the faces it’s making in each episode.” If television producers are going to educate viewers on the Bible, perhaps they should attend more closely to how it is packaged and consumed.