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Satan or Obama? Controversy in History channel's The Bible shows how casting can be seen as a political act

Photo of Satan from History's The Bible on left, President Barack Obama on right.

History, AP

Photo of Satan from History's The Bible on left, President Barack Obama on right.



Does the guy on the left look like the guy on the right?

The Internet meme of the morning is chatter that the actor playing Satan on History channel’s popular series The Bible was somehow specifically picked to resemble President Barack Obama, despite a statement from the show's producers calling the connection "utter nonsense."

The idea's spread, boosted by attention from conservative pundit Glenn Beck, seems more a reflection of modern paranoia over media manipulation and political partisanship than anything.

Especially because of the wildly-vacillating reasons offered for the supposed casting choice; depending on which Twitter feeds you follow, it is either a cruel, disrespectful joke by conservative filmmakers or a recognition of the truth by those sneaking an important message past the liberal television establishment.


But if it's tough to figure whose argument is best served by the controversy, there's no doubt it touches nerves on both sides of our polarized political/entertainment divide for different reasons. Conservative pundit Glenn Beck's Twitter message "Anyone else think the Devil in #TheBible Sunday on HIstory Channel looks exactly like That Guy?" has gotten 580 retweets so far.

But while I likely haven’t seen every instance when this Satan rears his head, I have watched moments in the series’ first episode when he appears, and I gotta say that the criticism seems far-fetched.

When I saw photos comparing the two, I wondered about the resemblance. And there's no doubt, the actor playing Satan bears a general resemblance to our president. He has sharp features, dark eyebrows, is a lighter-skinned person of color and has a mole on his face.

But there are times when this Satan looks to have chalky white skin as well. As Joshua DuBois, the former head of the White House’s faith office said on Twitter: “I see way more Sith Lord than anything else. I think folks are reaching.”

History channel and the show's executive producers Survivor mastermind Mark Burnett and Touched By an Angel co-star Roma Downey also said the connection is bunk.

History's statement: “HISTORY channel has the highest respect for President Obama. The series was produced with an international and diverse cast of respected actors. It's unfortunate that anyone made this false connection. HISTORY’s ‘The Bible’ is meant to enlighten people on its rich stories and deep history.”

Burnett and Downey's joint statement: “This is utter nonsense. The actor who played Satan, Mehdi Ouzaani, is a highly acclaimed Moroccan actor.  He has previously played parts in several Biblical epics– including Satanic characters long before Barack Obama was elected as our President.”

Downey also added, "Both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love our President, who is a fellow Christian.  False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of The Bible.”

I do think the picture which has been circulated of Satan on the show does look a lot like Obama. But that captures a fleeting moment.

In other casting controversies: Some experts have said the characters are too Europeanized. Indeed, some the biggest names in the story -- Jesus, King David, Moses, Noah – all look like white Europeans or white Americans. As the Huffington Post noted, the one major figure played by a black man so far, uber warrior Samson, lives out the stereotype of the athletic, strong black man undone by sleeping with a white woman who betrays him, Delilah.

That’s the trouble with portraying the earliest stories in a religion which started in the Middle East but now appeals to American and European nations – even the ethnicities and skin colors of the actors you choose can be seen a political or religious statement.

[Last modified: Friday, March 22, 2013 9:27am]


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