The Man Upstairs
Depictions of God in film
Just as there are portrayals of Hell and Satan in movies such as “Little Nicky”, there are numerous representations of God throughout popular culture. Released in 2003, the film “Bruce Almighty” features Jim Carey’s character Bruce trading places with God and adopting world-changing powers. The film plays around the idea and representation of God as just a visually ordinary human being.
In representing God as a human figure, Hollywood downplays the supernatural mythos behind God to show him in an almost secular light. The God that is usually shown on movie and TV screens does its best to avoid affiliation with any of the major faiths — this is a God without the Christian or Muslim connotations — a God everyone can relate to, if you will. However, this ordinary depiction of God did not sit well with some viewers of religious faith, particularly in Egypt where pressure from Muslim leaders banned Bruce Almighty.
What I find to be surprising is the choice of casting in who plays God. Morgan Freeman, an African-American, was chosen to play the role of the Creator. When people of faith think visually about God, they will probably refer to the above image for inspiration — an older Caucasian male — a black face would be out of the question.
Looking back through cinematic history, African-Americans have played subordinates, villains, and expendable characters. By casting a black man as God, it changes people’s perceptions on who God can be and what colour skin he can have — diversifying the image of God for today’s society.
Another film that breaks boundaries for holy representations is “Dogma”. The controversial movie released in 1999 features God as a woman, played by singer Alanis Morissette. The idea of a female God is one that is nearly taboo, with Christians universally referring to God as Him. The male-dominated structure of society enables ideas about women — that they can’t be effective leaders, that they are too emotional, etc. — to be set in place.
Author Suzanna Walters argues that how a representation is interpreted is in part based on who is expecting to be looking at the image. So often are women normalized under the male gaze, with female roles falling in accordance to male expectations. Placing a woman in the role of God cuts through that gaze and goes against the patriarchal denominations of modern faith.
Stereotypes against race and gender are shattered through the reimagination of the almighty — disrupting the generalization of God as a white man. In diversifying the image of God through different forms, a universal version of the man upstairs can be established for members of all faiths and demographics.