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October 2006
COLOR OF THE CROSS: An Interview with Director Jean Claude LaMarre

COLOR OF THE CROSS: An Interview with Director Jean Claude LaMarre
by Wilson Morales

October 23, 2006

Even since Mel Gibson proved that there’s a massive audience out there willing to see a film about Jesus Christ with his blockbuster film, “The Passion of the Christ”, many folks are now doing similar themed films as such was the case with “The Da Vinci Code”. Although the book came out first and was a success, the film received lukewarm reviews, despite bringing in over $300 million dollars worldwide. That hasn’t stop others from filmmakers from bringing in their versions to the big screen. Jean Claude LaMarre, a native of Brooklyn, New York, and born of Haitian decent, has done a number of films in recent years, with most of them having gone straight-to-DVD. He’s done “Gang of Roses” with LisaRaye, and Monica Calhoun, and “Brothers in Arms”. He’s certainly one of the few independent black filmmakers who keep churning out films with different themes. In his biggest and perhaps boldest move, he’s decided to make a film about a black Jesus Christ and his last 48 hours. In ‘Color of the Cross”, not only does LaMarre direct the film but plays Jesus Christ himself, while Debbie Morgan plays Mary and TV personality and radio host Ananda Lewis plays Leah, Jesus’ sister. In speaking with blackfilm.com, LaMarre talks about why he chose to make a film about a black Jesus Christ, as well as making his sequel to Nora’s Hair Salon.

How did this project come about for you?

Jean Claude LaMarre: This is a film that’s been in development now for about 2 ½ years. After I saw “The Passion of the Christ”, I realized how important a film like this is and a need and importance for it.

What do you mean by “a need” for it?

JCL: African American, black people, in this country are the only race of people that worship a God outside of their image. That’s something that needs to change. We need to understand that we played a part in biblical and religious history and people of color as we understand that term really formed a basis of biblical history.

Why focus of the last 48 hours of Christ’s life?

JCL: Well, I think it’s probably the most poignant moment of his life in terms of his sacrifice that he made for humanity. It’s also probably if you are a filmmaker fertile appeal for dramatic expressions and it’s the moment where you experienced the transfiguration, moments of doubt, confusion, and hovering above him is eminent death. It’s really a great part of the life of Jesus to really highlight dramatically.

At the same time while you are throwing in the race issue in the film, you are also following his story from what we and the world already knows.

JCL: The film is very, very true to scripture; very true to the bible. We tried to stay very consistent with what the Christians already know, and we don’t deviate from that. The fact that he’s Black, we know that we were going to be placed under intense scrutiny by virtue of that alone so we didn’t want to fuel the fire by deviating.

It would have been seen as blasphemy.

JCL: Absolutely!

What’s interesting is that the only folks in the film that refer to Jesus as a man of color are the Pharisees. Not even Mary or his disciples bring in the fact that he’s being hunted because he’s a Black man of God.

JCL: As a filmmaker, I constructed the film in a way that plays to the fact that his race may have been a part of the reason his message was not taken within the context in which he presented it, and that was one of brotherhood, and love and the fact that he really created an environment among the priesthood of the day that they felt threatened; and I believe the fact that he was a Black man may have contributed to how his message was received.

When you were looking to make this film, what were the challenges that came up?

JCL: Of course, financing is always a challenge when you’re making an independent film, so as we shopped this film around, a lot of folks would mentioned some of my previous films that I made such as “Gang of Roses”, and “Nora’s Hair Salon”, and they were a bit reluctant and somewhat tepid in their response, but other than that, that was probably the biggest challenge. Everything else was related in production. It could be very expensive making a period film. Other than that, we did a pretty good job.

As with “The Passion of the Christ” and this year’s “The Da Vinci Code”, there’s a massive audience that wants to see films about Jesus Christ. Did you do research as to how you wanted to present this film?

JCL: Absolutely! We obviously didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Mel Gibson put together a nice formula that worked for him, and that was primarily screening the film before churches and congregation members. That was our plan; to go to Black churches and screen the film and really sort of get a momentum going into the theatrical release.

As an actor in the film, how did it feel to play Jesus Christ?

JCL: Just one word, heavy.

How do you walk away from playing that character?

JCL: Well, you never do. It’s one that has instilled in me a lot more of faith, a lot more of sense of awareness, and of course, a lot more tolerance of a lot of things. It’s really impacted me on the spiritual level greatly having played this role.

What role does Ananda Lewis play in the film?

JCL: She plays Jesus’s sister, Leah, in the film.

What relevance does it have in his story?

JCL: Part of what we did with the film is that we presented his family as a very strong unit in the picture and we believe that we are speaking to the millions of Black people that will see this film that the theme of family is one that we really wanted to put forth and advocate in the film.

How significant is the role of Peter the disciple in the film?

JCL: Peter is very significant. Peter is a pivotal character in the last several days of Christ’s life on earth here. He is the warrior. Pacinto Taras Riddick, a very fabulous actor out of New York, played the role and did a tremendous job.

Outside of what people know now about Jesus Christ, what do you want them to get out from watching this film? Were you looking to offer a new insight?

JCL: I think it’s offering a new perspective. The notion of Jesus being white is an old age story, and I think there’s room for more. I think there’s room for an Asian Christ, a White Christ, a Black Christ. At the end of the day, Jesus’ color doesn’t matter and that’s exactly why a film like this is important.

What have been some of the responses you’ve received? Have you done anything different based on the responses?

JCL: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Black people have seen this film as a much long waited piece of entertainment. The White Christian communities have embraced it as a film that advocated tolerance on a lot of levels. We are very happy about the response that we have received up onto point.

Are you happy with the way it will be distributed through different cities?

JCL: We are doing small markets and then expand from there. I’m excited only because I think you want to see a film build momentum. You want to know there’s an audience out there for your film as we hit these several markets. I think we are going to be pleasantly surprise as how many people actually see the picture.

How did you get http://www.blackchristianmovies.com to be a part of this?

JCL: They came to us. Their whole theme to their company falls dead smack in line with what this film is about; putting positive images out there with strong moral themes to the Black Christian communities.

When is the DVD going to come out for this?

JCL: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is releasing the DVD on January 9th, 2007.

Will you have something different on the DVD?

JCL: There will be some extra footage and some deleted scenes.

What are you working on now?

JCL: Nora’s Hair Salon 2. Bobby Brown, Tatyana Ali, and Ananda Lewis and Mekhi Phifer are in the film.

What’s the story about?

JCL: In the first film, Jenifer Lewis’ character dies and she leaves the salon to the members of the salon and to estranged niece, played by Stacey Dash. Stacey sort of bumps heads with Tatyana because Tatyana’s character wants to sell the salon and Stacey’s character wants to get rid of it.

Is the shooting schedule as short as the first one, which was done in 12 days?

JCL: We’re actually on our 14th and last day.

Is that a good thing, to shoot with few days?

JCL: It’s cool. I think fans of the first film will be very happy with this one. We had received a lot of mail from people who wanted us to do a sequel, so we’ll see what happens.

Are you directing this as well?

JCL: I’m the writer and producer. I didn’t direct this one because I was too busy promoting “Color of the Cross”. A young woman named Jill Maxcey is the director.

What is the overall message of “Color of the Cross”?

JCL: That this film is one of tolerance and one that is long overdue and an important film as we move into the next century. We’re looking to really expand the platform upon which Christianity rests.



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