Joaquin Phoenix is known for turning in ferocious performances for a wide variety of roles, including Johnny Cash, himself, and a Roman emperor. However, Phoenix, a white man, is being considered to portray one of the most iconic figures in the whole of history: Jesus. Despite the fact that Jesus was a native of Israel and definitely not white, director Garth Davis thinks Phoenix is the man for the job for his upcoming film, Mary Magdalene, with Rooney Mara starring as the titular follower of Christ.
This casting begs the question: will this be the whitest Biblical adaptation of all time? With actors of this caliber, Davis clearly has awards season on the brain, but it still feels misguided. Still, it’s not like this is anything new. We saw Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton don some dark makeup to portray Moses and Ramses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Russell Crowe and Emma Watson starred in Noah. This isn’t strictly an issue for the Biblical genre, as everyone involved with Gods of Egypt and Ghost In The Shell can tell you. There’s no doubt that Phoenix and Mara could turn in excellent performances, but it feels like more proof of a systemic problem.
Additionally, Mara recently expressed her regret for playing a whitewashed version of Tiger Lily in Pan. Clearly another shot at an Oscar won out there.