Revival! written by Harry Lennix (Man of Steel, The Matrix) and directed by Danny Green, is a fresh and contemporary take on portraying the gospel of Jesus Christ. What makes Revival! so unique is the diverse casting, modern depictions of biblical stories, and the use of hybrid idioms to convey in new and unique ways a gospel that has been told for centuries. Revival! is a mixed media experience that depicts the gospel according to John the Apostle. The film infuses elements of a Broadway musical, animation, green screen and sound stage in a manner that is relatable and interesting.
Revival! recounts the mission, ministry, and miracles of Jesus. In Revival! storytelling through song is used to drive the poignant Christian narrative. Throughout most of the scenes, the singing component is the strongest aspect of the film. The film stars many notable singers such as Mali Music, an award-winning musician who plays Jesus, Michelle Williams (Destiny’s Child) as Mary Magdalene, Kenny Lattimore (In the Cut, The Young and The Restless) as Lazarus, Chaka Kahn (The Blues Brothers) who perfectly personifies Herodias, Queen of Galilee and Dawnn Lewis (Dream Girls) as Cleo and Wendy Raquel Robinson (The Game, The Steve Harvey Show) amongst many others.
Many of the major events of Jesus’ ministry and the acts of the disciples are chronicled such as the: Wedding at Cana, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus healing the ‘Woman With The Blood Issue’, Jesus casting down the temptation of the Devil after fasting for 40 days and nights, and the encouragement that Jesus gave at ‘The Last Supper’.
A Diverse Cast Makes Viewing Biblical Content More Relatable
In Revival! Jesus is Black and it is refreshing to see. The disciples are all different complexions and their physical appearances reflect the spectrum of several ethnicities. Additionally, close attention is given to the historical context of what the Word of God says about actual events that are archived in the Bible. Considering the geographical locations that Jesus and the disciples sojourned throughout the depictions of men and women of color throughout the narrative makes sense. Lebanon, the District of Phoenicia, Israel and Galilee to name a few, are all places that are located in the Middle East where white skin and blue eyes are not the norm. Seeing men and women in the cast with varied skin tones and different hair textures is effective.
An Unconventional Portrayal of Biblical Themes Makes The Plot More Engaging
Despite the lack of stylistic synchronization between scenes, the creative use of technology in making the timeless Gospel of John more modern is to be noted. At the Wedding of Cana (John 2: 1-12), it was exciting to see the water at the wedding turn to red wine on screen. The beautiful procession of a diverse looking people all worshipping together and in unity was serene. The strong and melodic vocals of Chester Gregory as the groom and Ebonique Wool as the Bride made for a sweet and touching scene.
The scene at the Last Supper also makes a strong impact. The Last Supper, reported in four books of the New Testament, was the final meal shared by Jesus in the Upper Room in Jerusalem the night before Christ’s crucifixion (Matthew 26: 17-29, Mark 14: 12-25, Luke 22:7-38 and 1 Corinthians 11: 23-25).
The sound of Mali Music’s lyrical voice perfectly sets the tone of this scene. The vast spectrum of diversity present at the table coupled with the prophetic words of Jesus going forth makes a lasting impression.
One of the most powerful scenes of the film is when Jesus is tempted by Satan. The biblical account can be found in Matthew 4: 1-11. In Revival!, the temptation manifests in three different forms: Satan in human form as a man, as an unassuming little boy who twists the Word of God and a physically beautiful woman who tries to use her body and enchantment to make Jesus ‘weak’. Ahmed Ahmed is as smooth as they come in his work as the Devil. Victoria Gabrielle Platt as a triple threat is so good at being wicked and seducing as The Temptress.
Too Many Mediums Distract From the Delivery of the Message
The transitions from one scene to the next could have been more synchronized. There are so many different idioms being used to convey the message that at times, this concert film is hard to follow. It is difficult to decipher whether or not as a viewer if you are watching a movie, a theatrical stage production, or an animated film. While the message of Jesus and his ministry is clear, contemporary and engaging — there are many production elements lacking within this film.
There is just too much going on stylistically. The term “less is more” comes to mind, because when it comes to something as complex as sharing the Gospel; the delivery of the message should not be overshadowed by distracting stylistic production choices. For example, instead of switching back and forth from the theatrical stage production to the film portion of the film; choosing one medium would create less confusion in the mind of the viewer when observing the film. However, Revival! is effective at delivering the Word of God in a fresh and innovative manner that is appealing to both mature and millennial audiences.
Star-Studded Cast With Strong Vocals, But the Acting Skills Were Lacking
It was a pleasant surprise to see Chaka Khan as the powerful and manipulating Herodias, a woman who became Queen of Galilee, and seduced her new husband, King Herod into killing John the Baptist. With her classic beauty, charm, and vocals Khan truly brought the role of Herodias to life. Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter as Hunter was believable, and the chemistry that he and Chaka Khan share is amusing to watch. More seasoned actors like T’Keyah Crystal Keymah (In Living Color) as Rebah, a powerful accuser of Jesus and Harry Lennix as the embattled Pontius Pilate and Obba Babatunde as a wealthy Nicodemus show strong acting chops, while some of the newcomers to film are truly better suited as singers.
Whether one reads the Bible as the final authority on life or merely as poetry and literature, there is truly a need for more good news or messages of hope for the world. There is a need for ideologies that encourage belief in the supernatural, miracle-working power of God. Revival! uniquely presents the Gospel of John.
Revival! will have its world premiere Tuesday, Dec. 4th at The Museum of The Bible, 400 4th Street SW, Washington, DC. The evening will begin with a VIP cocktail reception and red carpet, followed by performances featuring the film’s stars in advance of the evening’s 7:30 screening.
Revival! opens Dec. 7 in theaters in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Houston, Detroit, Dallas, and Los Angeles. In January, it will expand to screens in Memphis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Norfolk, St. Louis, San Francisco, Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, Tampa, Milwaukee, Memphis and additional theaters to be announced soon.