Why Black Jesus is the most important thing to happen to Christianity since the Bible.
**Spoilers to follow**
The world, or at least the United States, needs Black Jesus now more than ever. The past few years have seen Hollywood completely disregard historical evidence pointing to more accurate ethnic origins of the characters in its Bible epics, instead white washing every major biblical character to hit the big screen. Son of God looked more like the Son of Oden, Noah resembled an installment in The Hobbit series, and Bruce Wayne facilitated the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. (While not a biblical character, but in a similar vein of ethnic blasphemy, Angelina Jolie is slated to play the African queen Cleopatra, currently in development). This exclusion of minority heroes couldn’t come at a worse time, as racial tension in the United States seems to be higher than at any point since the 1960s. The murders of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and countless others have polarized Americans, and made many minorities feel as if simply existing makes them a threat to the rest of the country.
Cue the immaculate conception of Black Jesus, a live action sitcom from The Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder. The birth of a Black savior in the realm of American popular culture. But Slink Johnson’s portrayal of a modern day Jesus, in McGruder’s show, does more than provide us with a Black hero at a time when our country needs one the most. At a time when Hollywood is attempting to create epic biblical heroes, Black Jesus takes a very different route, and simply creates a relatable one. In doing so, Black Jesus provides us with, what might be, the most spiritually authentic depiction of Jesus Christ, since his depiction in the Bible. This Jesus doesn’t need you to come to church in a suit and a nice car, or to sing praise songs while dressed like a Hollister model, or to make your First Communion and Confirmation in a temple with stained glass windows. This Jesus doesn’t need you to protest abortion, or LGBT rights, or universal healthcare. This Jesus just wants you to be yourself and do the right thing, and hopefully, in the end, you will be a better version of yourself.
This Jesus is accessible. He doesn’t speak in Shakespearian English, or ask you to dwell on his death on the cross, or abstain from everything that brings worldly pleasure. This Jesus speaks in the dialect of the people he is trying to help. This Jesus has a sense of humor. This Jesus drinks and smokes, just like many of us do. Probably most importantly, this Jesus doesn’t demand that you be a “Christian,” in order to walk with him and gain salvation. In the entire course of the series, Black Jesus doesn’t try to convert anyone, at least not in the sense that we have come to think of conversion. This Jesus just wants to, “smoke, drink, and chill."
While the miracles that occur in the series indicate that McGruder wants us to interpret Black Jesus as the actual son of God, Black Jesus is completely human. Black Jesus has a strong sense of faith, but he is not omnipotent. Black Jesus doesn’t have all the answers; like us, he figures it out as he goes. Black Jesus breaks man’s law, but never breaks God’s law, as established in the Bible. Black Jesus works for his own benefit and the benefit of others. Black Jesus loves everyone, but some people, “only by default.” Black Jesus helps his enemy, although sometimes grudgingly.
While, on paper, this Jesus may seem to have a typical stoner philosophy, Black Jesus is anything but your typical stoner. He is guided by a strong sense of responsibility and community, along with an occasionally wavering, yet unbreakable sense of faith. Black Jesus’ relatability is bolstered by the context in which his teaching occurs. He is not battling the Roman Empire in an attempt to save the whole world. He is just trying to grow a community garden in Compton, CA. This humble goal sets the stage for strong character and community development. In the end, the community garden fails, but Jesus, and everyone around him, is a better person for having strove towards its development. Most importantly, they are all better in subtle and completely believable ways. They did not have to change who they are, they just got better at being who they are.
And that is the reason Black Jesus is such a powerful depiction of the Christian savior. Aside from the miracles that occur for the sake of entertainment, Jesus and his “disciples,” do nothing that we ourselves are not capable of. They do not forsake everything of value to them and retreat from the world. They continue to embody the traits that make them unique individuals. They don’t face life-threatening persecution in the name of religion. They face everyday problems and conflicts, and through striving to do the right thing within those conflicts, they become better people. They find a way to better their community, while working towards their own desire to “smoke, drink, and chill.” By the end of Black Jesus, McGruder convinces us that, if more people subscribed to that philosophy, the world might be a much better place.
Check out Black Jesus, streaming now on adultswim.com.