The Book of Clarence Review

The Book of Clarence
The Book of Clarence
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To watch a film and ask, “Who is this for?” is to reduce the movie. Anybody can watch a film. However, marginalized communities rarely find films that mirror their own lives cultures, or values. One of the greatest gifts cinema can offer is an opportunity to open up your mind at the movies and see things from a completely different perspective, be prepared to be surprised by shifts in tone and philosophy; or laugh at something you never thought could be funny. So here we talking about The Book of Clarence movie.

However, what on earth could The Book Of Clarence possibly be? To question whom it targets if not for a highly violent comedy about, amongst other things, a pot-smoking false messiah of ancient Jerusalem – one which satirically caricatures present-day racism and blacks out while maintaining Black Jesus as our real savior – doesn’t mean it’s bad. His follow-up to the audacious black western The Harder They Fall by Jeymes Samuel has some of the same style and taste that made his first effort so much fun -it’s hard to think back on many black period films that were fun, thrilling, or ridiculous. But unlike Thomas Samuel’s work who sets his latest creation in one of America’s most blood-soaked chapters involving African Americans during Wild West times.

This brings us to 33 AD when Roman (all white) occupying forces are making life utter hell for Jerusalem’s (all black) residents and nailing anyone they suspected was their Messiah onto crosses.

From that opening shot, Stanfield’s soulful eyes staring into the camera as he covers himself with blood oozing from nails through his hands and feet indicate that we know what will happen to this eponymous Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield). Going back to a month ago, Clarence together with his sidekick Elijah (RJ Cyler being typically lovely), lost a chariot race against Mary Magdalene’s badassness (Teyana Taylor). In order not to be executed by the Terrible King Jedediah (Eric Kofi-Abrefa) they must beg his mercy for losing his chariot – unless they can give him either money or their lives within a month.

Initially, Clarence contemplates joining Jesus’ apostles to ensure some protection; this is what his twin brother Thomas does too. However, he soon realizes how easier it would be if he skipped a step and attempted the messiah trick himself. By now, an uncomfortable feeling is beginning to creep in not because the movie derails but because it’s hard to think about what kind of conversations will come from having a pro-Christian film featuring a black messiah imposter protagonist that has witty dreadlocks with Jesus.

Some of the satire is more crowd-pleasing: The running gag of Romans who behave like a bunch of Karens and corrupt cops never gets old, claiming victimhood when they are the aggressors and harassing the Black populations with persistent requests for ID (which, hilariously, are tiny scrolls of papyrus). Samuels has a knack for landing even the silliest of punchlines but also turns the style up to 11. Brothels become Afrofuturistic fantasies straight out of an ’00s Hype Williams music video; drug dens have patrons floating into the clouds, tethered only by a loose grip on a hookah pipe. This version of Jerusalem, at times, feels a little underpopulated – when Clarence sets out to free enslaved gladiators, it’s just a handful of dudes – but everything onscreen is exquisitely colorful and lit with rare precision to achingly cool hip-hop and R&B soundtrack.

Many minor characters prove great fun. James McAvoy and Micheal Ward chew scenery with aplomb as Pontius Pilate and Judas respectively. David Oyelowo is utterly hilarious as an incredulous John the Baptist. Best of all is Alfre Woodard’s Mary, who gives Clarence a well-earned slap when he questions the immaculate conception and insists “I was minding my own virgin business just being a virgin!”

Whereas it may draw comparisons to Life of Brian in some respects, The Book of Clarence departs greatly from this Monty Python comedy which was seen by many as a blasphemous take on religion resulting in its ban across different countries worldwide. Its jokes aside, The Book Of Clarence bears greater philosophical resemblance to Passion Of The Christ as well where Jesus (mind you he’s much sassier here) comes across as lord and savior rather than one suffering from crucifixion.

It’s an admirable effort for Samuels to draw in so many of the world’s horrors and surround them with fun: The Book of Clarence is surprisingly cohesive for a movie that precedes a lynching with a dance number. But even if it’s frequently impressive, it’s still pretty befuddling as a whole. It’s possible there are many millions of movie fans who like their religious teachings with a side of racial commentary and a large helping of slapstick. Samuels puts faith in their existence, but to paraphrase something Clarence says to Thomas: “I believe in life itself. You pray to a man no one has ever met.”


Jeymes Samuel’s take on the final weeks before Jesus’s crucifixion may not entirely come together, but it is an admirably bold swing. Told from the point of view of Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield), a local drug dealer who has thirty days to pay off his debt, he realizes he can avoid being killed by becoming a messiah because Jesus has already done that back in Ancient Jerusalem. The film has plenty of style and some riotous comic moments, but the devoted religiosity and shifts in tone are occasionally too heavy a cross for it to bear.

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