Black Jesus

Valerio Zurlini's fable about the death of a Christlike revolutionary was poorly received by critics in 1968, which may have been inevitable given its overt religiosity at the expense of the director's Marxist leanings. Set in an unnamed postcolonial African country but drawing on the death of Congolese nationalist Patrice Lumumba, it concerns the charismatic black leader of a nonviolent revolutionary movement (Woody Strode), who is captured by the brutal military regime and tortured for refusing to renounce his followers. Zurlini's other primary source was the Gospel of Luke—the film, he said, was as much about grace as about politics—and while his solemn approach can be heavy-handed at times, his directness and sparse visual style, coupled with Strode's quietly compelling presence, is often quite moving. 89 min.

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