The occasional good Christian movie that finds success is always a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it is an oasis in the entertainment desert for Christians who, despite all of the talk in Hollywood of “representation,” seldom see their faith accurately and reverently depicted on the silver screen.
On the other hand, each spawns copycats that are either cringy or blasphemous — but the forthcoming film “The Book of Clarence” may be an excruciating mixture of both.
Set in 33AD, writer and director Jeymes Samuel uses a biblical backdrop to tell the story of Clarence, a streetwise drug dealer who becomes captivated by the power and fame of Jesus of Nazareth and his apostles and seeks the same for himself, Vanity Fair reported.
This leads Clarence, played by “Get Out” and “Atlanta” star LaKeith Stanfield, to several misguided attempts to imitate Jesus, including preaching a phony sermon and faking a miracle with the help of his friend, played by RJ Cyler.
While there are some indications that Clarence may indeed experience a beautiful conversion to becoming authentically Christlike, the trailer reveals that the journey to get there will be problematic for many Christians.
Hip-hop legend Jay-Z, who is producing the movie and will lend his musical talents to the soundtrack, shared the trailer to his Instagram Tuesday, captioned with its release date of January 2024.
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In one of the scenes featured in the trailer, Clarence, who sells ancient psychedelics and gambles on chariot races, declares himself to a crowd to be their “new messiah.”
Although the next cut shows him getting slapped by John the Baptist for blasphemy, witnessing it play out is sure to make Christians uncomfortable, if not utterly repulsed.
Based on what they say about it, the filmmakers seem to be coming from a good place — but, as the adage says, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
This story could have been told in any other context besides this one and still been impactful. Instead, they’ve chosen the route that rides the coattails of other popular films but arguably comes with the most pitfalls.
Faith-based content is hot right now because of hits like “The Chosen,” “The Jesus Revolution” and “The Sound of Freedom,” so it makes sense that the filmmakers would be eager to ride those coattails.
However, Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Corey Carter, perhaps attempted to play both sides when he said he was uncomfortable with it being called a “faith-based movie” by some studio executives.
“This story is about a young man who finds his faith through love and through wanting to become somebody in the world, which is the story of everybody,” the “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” star clarified.
“Everyone wants to find love, and everyone wants to leave this place having accomplished something, having left their mark that they’ve been here and hopefully affected the world in a positive way,” Jay-Z added.
At least Samuel, who has been working on the script since 2017, leaned into the religious aspect a little more.
“I wanted to tell a Bible story about an everyman,” Samuel said in his first interview about what will be his follow-up to “The Harder They Fall.”
“I always wanted to explore the Bible stories, but from the angle of the person that sells Jesus his sandals, the woman or man that owns the hair salon,” he added, apparently unsatisfied with the stories already told from the fishermen who caught Jesus’s dinner.
However, Samuel’s description also explained his rationale for the cringe aspect of this film, namely the use of a lovable, just-like-us urban guy who updates the story of Jesus by being super relatable.
It may not be the patchwork clothes and clownface depiction of Jesus and his disciples à la “Godspell,” but it’s pretty darn close.
The story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is the greatest story ever told precisely because it is compelling and universal in any century.
Still, that doesn’t stop misguided artists from attempting to do a better job than the Gospel writers, which often results in irreverent movies with subpar plots that turn off or outright offend most Bible-believing audiences.
It’s clear that Hollywood no longer understands why certain stories resonate with audiences or even how to reproduce the same sentiments in a remake (see the woke “Snow White” disaster for proof).
In search of the ever-elusive magic formula — in this case, Christian audience equals cash — the filmmakers may end up offending their target audience by using Jesus Christ as a mere plot device.
It seems “The Book of Clarence” is a movie that Christians will despise and nonbelievers will ignore — but because of the money rolling in for other faith-based films, this surely won’t be the last of them.
Perhaps just like its muse, the Christian genre has, in a way, become a victim of its own popularity.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.