Black Jesus

Billed as the world's first black Jesus movie, "Son of Man" portrays Christ as a modern African revolutionary and aims to shatter the Western image of a placid savior with fair hair and blue eyes.

The South African film, which premieres on Sunday at the U.S. Sundance festival in Utah, transports the life and death of Christ from first century Palestine to a contemporary African state racked by war and poverty.

Jesus is born in a shanty-town shed, a far cry from a manger in a Bethlehem stable. His mother Mary is a virgin, though feisty enough to argue with the angels. Gun-wielding authorities fear his message of equality and he ends up hanging on a cross.

"We wanted to look at the gospels as if they were written by spindoctors and to strip that away and look at the truth," director Mark Dornford-May told Reuters in an interview.

"The truth is that Christ was born in an occupied state and preached equality at a time when that wasn't very acceptable."

By portraying Jesus as a black African, Dornford-May hopes to sharpen the political context of the gospels, when Israel was under Roman occupation, and challenge Western perceptions of Christ as meek, mild and European.

"We have to accept that Christ has been hijacked a bit -- he's gone very blonde haired and blue-eyed," he said. "The important thing about the message of Christ was that it is universal. It doesn't matter what he looked like."

In fact, there was a film called "Black Jesus" made in 1968 and starring Woody Strode, but it is described as a political commentary rather than an interpretation of the life of Christ.