Local filmmakers crack the alabaster facade of Jesus

by Beverly Aarons

“This film is dedicated to the future memory of white supremacist, the original gangster of the new world,” says a deep voice. It’s like that Manifesto Destiny Jesus begin. Orchestral music rings out, white text fades to a black background, English writer William Gilpin’s words appear: “The unfinished fate of the American people is to subdue the continent – to rush across this vast field to the Pacific Ocean. “

Seattle’s crane-filled skyline appears. Logos of the country’s richest and most powerful companies glide along towering skyscrapers. Eroded tent cities cling to a dusty underground passage. Seattle: a paragon of westward expansion and capitalist conquest. Fast forward: Displaced Seattleites bemoan the relentless hammer of gentrification. “I can’t even afford to live here,” said one man.

A woman sits in Columbia City’s Church of Hope, a stained glass window of Jesus hovers above, her ivory hand points west.

Manifesto Destiny Jesus, which is screened this month “Local observations”Film festival, is a documentary that explores how the widespread portrayal of Jesus as white influences everything from gentrification to police brutality. And how a little gentrifying church in South Seattle found the courage to ask, “What does worshiping a white Jesus mean?”

“[No one is] looking at me and saying ‘This black man seems to be the son of God’, ”said T. Geronimo Johnson in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. Johnson, who is black and one of three Manifesto Destiny Jesus filmmakers, argues that the ubiquitous iconography of Jesus as a white man dictates how people of color are viewed and treated in society. He has seen it in his own life.

When he tells people he’s a teacher, they often assume he’s an elementary or high school teacher, not an instructor at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Their imaginations of his life are limited by the collective narrative of what the life of a black person is like. The roots of these constraints are what Johnson and his fellow filmmakers, Josh Aaseng and Daemond Arrindell, question and disrupt in Manifesto Destiny Jesus.

“I always felt like something was wrong,” said Arrindell, who grew up surrounded by images of a white Jesus. “But I don’t think I ever said it out loud. There were just aspects of the Christian faith, of the Catholic faith, that didn’t quite suit me. “

During his freshman year of college, Aaseng began to question the popular view of Jesus as a white man. “I was in New York during 9/11 and I started to think, ‘Jesus looks more like Osama Bin Laden than Mel Gibson,'” Aaseng said. “There is this complete fantasy of what Jesus looks like and how much it changes the mind for people who think he is an accurate representation of Jesus.”

Johnson went further, he described the colored worship of a white Jesus as an “extension of our slavery”. Although he also acknowledged the ways oppressed people have taken advantage of Christianity in their quest for liberation.

Manifest Destiny Jesus filmmakers Josh Aaseng, Daemond Arrindell and T. Geronimo Johnson. (Photo: Kayti Barnett-O’Brien)

Filmmakers believe that imagining Jesus, and by extension God, as a white man instills in the mind the idea of ​​white superiority. And that kind of thinking is hard to let go even if you consciously reject the white supremacist value system.

“I’ve been constantly presented with this idea that white children are inherently better than me,” Arrindell said. As a young competitive swimmer, he was often the only black child at swimming competitions. “I have been questioned. I got teased. I was regularly verbally assaulted. So my rejection of [white supremacy] was, ‘No you can’t beat me just because of your skin color.’ However, the subconscious beliefs, the internalized inferiority complex, I unpacked this and still unpack it now. I think this is an intentional lifelong release.

In Manifesto Destiny Jesus, a mental health counselor sits at Columbia City Church of Hope. Wooden benches fill the background. A stained glass window Jesus is covered by the “tree of life”. He recounts childhood visits to his grandmother’s home in the Philippines where he was surrounded by “little white boys” – tiny statues of Jesus. It shaped his perception of the world. “It’s the thing to be,” he said he believed as a child. “This is what holiness and God look like.

T. Geronimo Johnson wonders if a person can completely reject the notions of white supremacist that they have in their mind. “The thing with white supremacy is that it’s kind of like Catholicism,” he said. almost persistent as a build-up of heavy metals in the blood.

Acclimatization to white supremacy is more dangerous than belief, Johnson added. “Because there is always a huge gap between what we say we believe and the way we behave. And it is through this acclimatization that we often continue to advance the goals of white supremacy even though we pretend not to believe it.

Film representing an individual presenting a black man with a first lift towards the ceiling of a church.
Still from the film of “Manifest Destiny Jesus”. Filmed by and photo courtesy of Jon Aaron Aaseng.

Religious are not the only ones to breathe the ubiquitous representation of a white Jesus.

“You can be an atheist and still have a cultural image of what Jesus looks like in your head,” Aaseng said.

The filmmakers believe that the “churchless” and non-religious people of the West Coast should confront and question the iconography of White Jesus and not mistakenly assume that white supremacy is a problem confined to the South.

“You can be a white atheist and say, ‘Well that’s not part of my problem’, but you are still a direct beneficiary of a system that strengthens your position in this society as a representative of Being. supreme… ”Johnson mentioned.

The ideals of white supremacy are so deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of Western society, Johnson said, that it will take centuries to transform culture.

“I don’t think we’ll see [white supremacy] evaporate until people of European descent have worshiped a colored god, preferably a woman, for at least 700 to 2,000 years. Manifesto Destiny Jesus screens at NWFF “Local observations»Film festival on September 26, 2021.

Beverly aarons is a writer and game developer. She works in several disciplines as an editor, journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter and short story writer. She explores futuristic worlds in fiction but also enjoys discovering the stories of unsung heroes of modern times. She is currently writing an immersive play on migration themes as well as a series of non-fiction stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities and around the world. In August 2018, she produced a game and a live event where community members worked together to imagine an economic future that they really wanted to leave for future generations.

?? Featured Image: Still from the ‘Manifest Destiny Jesus’ film. Filmed by and photo courtesy of Jon Aaron Aaseng.

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