When the Internet noticed the resemblance between President Barack Obama and Moroccan actor Mohamen Mehdi Ouazann, the outrage alarm was sounded. Ouazann portrays Satan on History Channel’s The Bible miniseries, and many believed that this was a sly joke on the part of the Christian Right. Some even contended that this was some Pat Robertson-esque Anti-Christ conspiracy theory. The story blew over pretty quickly and most considered it harmless speculation of the misinformed. The ugly truth is that History Channel’s The Bible is far from harmless. Everything about the way the network describes the show to the casting of Ouazann reveals ignorance and racism.
It comes as a shock to few that the History Channel has abandoned all pretense of accurately portraying history. This complaint has been levied against the network countless times. Yet, with a few exceptions (I’m looking at you, Ancient Aliens) their programming is fairly harmless. Pawn Stars will not leave you with a distorted view of history, regardless of its artificiality. The Bible is different. Its source material informs the actions of billions of individuals. Debates about “proper” interpretations of scripture have led to war and genocide. Regardless of how you feel about its content, you cannot debate its influence.
A network that bills itself as “history” is making a fairly profound statement by dramatizing a religious text. The most logical reason for the History Channel to air The Bible is its cultural relevance. Unfortunately, that is not how the network presents the miniseries. On their website they bill it as a “docudrama.” The definition of “docudrama” is a documentary style of television that dramatizes “actual historical events.” Is the point of the program to explore biblical figures and events verified by other historical sources? Unfortunately, the program fails to highlight those figures or events based in truth. It leaves the uniformed viewer believing that Goliath were just as real as the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The creators even stated that “the series would not try to impose any kind of historical context to events like the Flood.”
Perhaps that is asking too much. The History Channel merely wants to entertain. Sure, the creators of the series have an obvious Evangelical mission. But the network itself just wants to make a buck. They assume most of their audience can discern between what is a religious belief and written history. What television channel would not want a big budget production of the “greatest story ever told?”
Yet, beyond the egregious problem that the miniseries is not a “docudrama,” is the way in which the events and figures are portrayed. The Bible clings to the Eurocentric narrative that demands the figures of scripture have white skin and western features. The actor who played Jesus Christ is a Portuguese model, Peter is British, the Virgin Mary is Irish. Despite the fact that researchers supposedly verified the accuracy of the program, the man from Nazareth who had hair like wool is conspicuously absent.
Of course, The Bible is not a factual program. If the creators feel that their personal Jesus looks like the beautiful Portuguese man of the series, why stop them? The problem resides in the fact that a dark skinned African portrays the devil, the antithesis of Jesus Christ. The Bible promotes the racist ideology that the highest pinnacle of love and goodness looks like a fair-skinned European while the father of lies looks like “the Other.” Evil and sin are personified by that which is not white. Perhaps it is simply entertainment. More likely it is a reflection of the fear of “the Other” lurking in the subconscious of many. It is clear that the History Chanel has gone beyond the embarrassment of its regular schlock into the realm of deceit, and worse, hatred.