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Samson and the Cast of Many Colours

April 6, 2014

Over Christmas last year the British TV station Channel 5 put on a fancy, big budget American mini-series about The Bible, with the rather imaginative name The Bible.  Being a fellow who finds that kind of thing quite interesting, I recorded it on the off-chance I would get an opportunity to fit it it into my busy telly-watching schedule.  The series has been lurking in my Sky+ ever since, as I struggled to keep up to date with my various TV commitments, but last week I decided to stick it on.

I know mate, I just as shocked by all the fuss

I know mate, I was just as shocked by all the fuss as you are

You see, I’m currently working on a pulp-fantasy style short story that’s sorta based on David and Goliath.  While I was working away on it I thought I’d stick something appropriate on the TV to provide a bit of atmosphere and background noise, so I booted up the second episode of the series which covered the whole Goliath incident.  The business with Saul, David and everyone’s favourite six-cubit tall Philistine happened to form the second half of this episode, while the first half covered the story of another giant – Samson, the Biblical Superhero who’s missus was the subject of a classic Tom Jones song (not really).

The guy playing Samson struck me as looking a bit familiar, so I set about Googling him to find out what else I’d seen him in. I didn’t manage to find that information right away, but instead I found a lot of stuff querying whether or not the producers were right to cast a black man as Samson. There was a lot of soul searching about whether it was ‘historically’ or Biblically accurate and about whether it mattered that they’d got it wrong or not.  There was also a fair amount of outraged invective about it being yet another case of  ‘affirmative action’ gone mad and protests that there wasn’t ‘any black Hebrews’ too.  One outraged commentator even claimed the casting was as crazy as casting George Clooney to play Martin Luther King Jnr, and went on to say he was so peeved he wouldn’t be watching any more episodes.  

Some of the posters on one of the blogs I read went to great lengths to argue that Samson couldn’t have been black – One of the best nutjob arguments I found is presented here from without editing on my part, so you get an understanding of the level of thinking we’re dealing with:

‘The tribe of Dan was prophetically the tribe that would become great warriors and be known as the people not of God. They would leave their name and/or mark wherever they went. This is a scriptural fact. The Vikings of Denmark (Danmark) were descendants of the tribe of Dan that was captured and enslaved. Now, when have you seen a Scandinavian that was black with course hair? The country Denmark couldn’t have a name easier to allow us to see where the Tribe of Dan left its name and mark.’

So the Vikings are Israelites that got really, really lost?  Oooooooooh-kaaaaaay. Sounds Legit.  That totally explains why Jerusalem was packed with blond-haired, blue eyed Chris Hemworth look-a-likes.

Now, in the interests of fair disclosure, I should make a few things clear.  First up, I’m not a Christian.  I am in fact, it would be fair to say, a card carrying Atheist.  As I’ve previously said I find Christianity and religion in general rather interesting, but only in the same way I find stuff about the Norse or Egyptian gods interesting – as mythology.  That said, I’d never deny anyone else’s right to go off believing whatever they want to believe as long as they don’t force their views on others, etc. etc. so on and so forth.  So bearing this in mind, I’m not going to get stuck into the fact that people were worrying about anything in the series being ‘historically accurate.’  Given the first episode would have featured the Garden of Eden and Noah’s ark, I would have thought historical accuracy would have been the last thing on anyone’s mind.  But like I say, I’m not going to get stuck into that thorny issue. Instead I’ll tackle two other points that occurred to me.

Firstly,  as understand it Samson could possibly have been black.  As our imaginative friend points out above, Samson is meant to be one of the descendants of Dan, who was one of the sons of Jacob who didn’t get his own song in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I’m no expert Biblical scholar – though I probably know more about it that certain Christians out there, which is a sad state of affairs – but I do seem to recall that the Danites were meant to have some association with Ethiopia or North Africa.  Bearing that in mind,  maybe him looking African isn’t too outrageous after all.  And reading some stuff written by people who are far more learned than learned than me it turns out that Herodotus wrote some stuff that indicated that there certainly dark skinned individuals among the tribes of Israel. Either way, his skin colour isn’t explicitly stated in the good old ‘Good Book’, so black is a valid choice as any other given the geographical area and the time period.

At least they stuck a bit of false tan on him in the series

At least they stuck a bit of false tan on him in the series

The second and more significant thing that I found odd was the fact no-one seemed to be at all bothered that the same episode featured a Caucasian, blue-eyed Samuel.  Jonathan and plenty of other characters were played by European or white American actors too. Even Goliath was played by an Australian chap of German descent, and I’d wager there wasn’t too many people of that particular lineage knocking around in the Philistine army.  While Samson’s ethnicity might be debatable, I’m pretty damn sure Samuel wouldn’t have been a white guy with an upper class English sodding accent.  A picture of the actor in another role can be seen to the right  for reference. Paul Freeman is an excellent actor with a top notch resume of work (including the excellent role of Ivan Ooze in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Movie), but he doesn’t look very Israeli to me.

Given these points, could it be that the people complaining about a black Samson have a different agenda than ensuring the program is historically accurate?   Maybe… just maybe, might there be the tiniest little smidgen of underlying racism creeping in to people’s thought processes?  I know in this day and age it’s hard to imagine, but it looks like some folks still get a bit twitchy for no other reason than they think they they might be seeing  more people of colour in something than they absolutely have to.  It’s no wonder there was such an uproar when Micheal B. Jordan bagged the Human Torch gig in the new Fantastic Four film – it looks like some parts of the Christian community are just as prone to knee jerk bigotry as some comic fans are.   Though at least  the comics fans can say with certainty that their made-up character was definitely white originally, for whatever that’s worth,

Overall I think I can quite easily cope with Black Samson (and not just because that sounds like the name of a blaxplotation style Marvel hero from the 70’s who would team up with Luke Cage).  It’s not impossible that it’s an accurate portrayal, and honestly it just doesn’t seem to be a big deal given not everyone in any given Biblical epic will be of an appropriate ethnic descent, as you’d probably struggle to find enough name actors to achieve that.  And besides, I’m pretty sure there’s meant to be more important things for people to think about when it comes to Bible stories anyway.  Aren’t there meant to be morals and all that as well?  And didn’t another dark skinned guy who comes along later in the story have some things to say about tolerance and loving thy neighbour?  Like I said, I’m no expert.

Anyway, as it turns out the bloke that played Samson that looked so familiar was the chap that played Xaro Xhoan Daxos in Game of Thrones.  He also played a Pirate guy in the recent Jason Mamoa version of Conan.  Next time I want to find out what I’ve seen an actor in I’ll just go straight to IMDB instead of Random Googling.  Hopefully that way I won’t run into quite so much crazy nonsense in future.  Lesson learned on that front, I think.



From → Musings

  1. Yep, IMDB it is. Less stress and more credibility 🙂

  2. And less comments. I really should learn never to read the comments… nothing good ever comes of it.

  3. Gede Prama permalink

    Thank you, great inspiring blog, i’m so looking forward to start reading and discovering what you write on here.. 🙂

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