By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
In the film “Revival!,” Chicago native and renowned actor Harry Lennix brings the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to the big screen in an eclectic way. Lennix plays Pontius Pilate in the film, which begins screening at local theaters on April 19.
The film combines dance, drama and music, and is based on the Gospel of John with a predominantly all-Black cast retelling of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Lennix, who is one of Chicago’s favorite sons, discussed the film with the Crusader. “Revival! is the first ever, Bible-based multi-media form of entertainment from the cultural perspective of Black America. There is a particular and unique way that Black folk praise God,” he said. “In this case, we have taken the Gospel of the apostle John and set it to the music of the Black Church. We are referring to this new genre of content as Black Faith Entertainment. In most cases where religion is presented with a Black-centered story, the form is melodrama. The content rarely focuses on Scripture and the principals contained in the stories of the Holy Bible. We are seeking to use stories from the Bible and reexamine them through the lens of the Black experience.”
He explained that the idea is for “our people to have a spiritual reawakening in an anxious time.” He offered that the Gospel of John is filled with the same spiritual imagination that he sees every Sunday in the Black Church. “Revival! will be the first time the world will be able to experience this phenomenon on film.”
I was able to screen “Revival!,” which reinforces the notion of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, grace and humanity. It is magnificent in its vivid, rousing storytelling and vibrant costumes throughout.
The film opens with the discovery that Jesus’ body is no longer in the tomb. As it unfolds, Christ is viewed as an outcast as well as a person of mystique, because of his calming personality and role as a miracle worker—as illustrated by his feeding the masses with little food, to changing water to wine at a wedding. The film covers Christ’s life with tenderness and respect, while bringing to the screen a re-enactment that would have even the most hardened disbeliever smiling with approval. For example regarding the wine for the wedding, Christ jokingly tells the Disciples that the higher power that led him to the wedding was Mary his mother. “She is irritated because I didn’t bring wine, but I told her to have faith,” he says.
Of note is 10-time Grammy winner Chaka Khan playing the wife of King Herod, Herodias, who can sing her butt off, Mali Music, who portrays Christ in a non-traditional manner, and Lennix, who plays Pontius Pilate, who orders that Christ be crucified.
Other cast members include Michelle Williams (Destiny’s Child), Siedah Garrett, T’Keyah Crystal Keymah, Dawnn Lewis, Niki J. Crawford, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Paula Newsome, Victoria Tilford and Chester Gregory.
Although Lennix no longer lives in Chicago, he considers this his home. “My roots remain here. I have family here and almost all of my friends have either lived in Chicago at some point or spent time here. Chicago has been called the capitol of Black America—we have more entrepreneurs who have helped to shape the nation than any other city,” he said. “I think we are an example of authenticity, humility, and industriousness that inspires everyone else. Our artistic contributions, architectural achievement, and all around toughness are inarguably as significant as any other region of the country. It is a microcosm of all that is right and wrong in America and, as such, is the most ‘American’ city in the world.”
These artistic contributions include those from Steve Harris, who is an actor from the West Side and who is a co-producer of “Revival!” There is Robert Townsend and the Goodman Theatre’s Chuck Smith, who Lennix called “a Chicago institution.”
Lennix, who has been cast in many television, film and stage roles, currently stars on the hit NBC drama “The Blacklist.” He has other varied interests and mentions that his role in the film about a Black female veteran called “Stand Down Soldier” was a good outlet in which to highlight post-traumatic stress disorder. “The issue of mental health among our returning troops is little explored in film, or in society as a whole. We may pass these people every day and think of them as lunatics or drug addicts. The power of artistic expression is that it makes representative characters personal.”
He is also an ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and urges men to get screenings via a test that is as simple as a blood draw during April, which is National Minority Health Month. “We need to take the shame out of prostate cancer screenings. One in six Black men will be diagnosed during their lifetime, yet with early detection the disease is 99 percent treatable,” he said. “As a Black man representing the most vulnerable demographic to be afflicted with the disease, I hope to put a face to the underexposed condition, and to make screening through the PSA test a part of every man’s yearly physical once we hit 40. I’m grateful that I have been included in the effort to save lives and families. “
So Black men take heed of Lennix’s health advice and Black families plan a trip to the theatre beginning the weekend of April 19. For ticket and theater locations: www.revivalthemovie.com
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago.” For book info, firstname.lastname@example.org.