Jay-Z’s controversial new film, “The Book of Clarence,” has ignited various discussions across Christian circles. While some, like Christianity Today argue that the movie contains Christian themes, Focus on the Family takes it a step further by suggesting that it could be classified as a Christian film due to its overt religious content. However, there is a subtle message in the film that these organizations may have overlooked, one that challenges traditional Christian beliefs and could be viewed as blasphemous.

Set in 33 A.D. during Jesus’ ministry, the story follows Clarence (played by LaKeith Stanfield), the twin brother of Apostle Thomas, who is caught up in drug dealing and struggles to provide for his family while trying to escape a looming debt. Intrigued by the power and influence of Jesus and his Apostles, Clarence decides to impersonate the Messiah in hopes of gaining similar status and deceiving the masses. As he embarks on this deceitful journey, he comes to realize that true redemption can only be found through faith. This review will discuss the film without revealing any major spoilers, allowing viewers to experience its impact firsthand.

The movie, produced by Jay-Z, was initially expected to be overtly blasphemous. However, many Christians found it difficult to pinpoint what exactly felt off about it after watching it. Despite accurately portraying Jesus as a miracle worker and incorporating core Christian elements, the film’s underlying message strays far from supporting the reality of Jesus and belief in him. While the film does adapt episodes from Jesus’s Ministry in a non-mocking way, it takes liberties by drawing from non-biblical material such as the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, written long after the events it describes. These creative decisions hint at a deeper reason behind the references that many viewers failed to grasp.

The portrayal of the Apostles in the trailer seems to depict them as an exclusive group with power and influence, leading Clarence to envy them. However, historically, the Apostles were often targeted by religious elites for associating with social outcasts, showing a different dynamic. The intentional choice by the director to present them in this light may be more about the film’s hidden message rather than accurately representing biblical narratives. Additionally, the movie seems to address racial dynamics by highlighting a contrast between white and black characters, with the majority of the cast being black except for the white Roman oppressors. This deliberate choice to parallel the Romans with modern racist stereotypes may come across as unnecessary and inflammatory to some viewers. Despite the overt messaging, these elements still contribute to the film’s hidden message, which will likely become more apparent as the story unfolds.

Within the realm of subliminal messages portrayed in the trailer, the representation of how religion spreads and operates in certain parts of the film is also concerning. At the beginning of the movie, religious believers are depicted as uninformed individuals whose sole purpose is to enrich and empower deceitful religious leaders. This portrayal aligns with many contemporary stereotypes regarding the functioning and operations of churches today. Furthermore, the director himself emphasizes this perspective by stating in an interview:

“Clarence saw all the materialistic stuff… A lot of these preachers around today see the Bible as opportunity to amass humongous amounts of wealth. So, Clarence is in the town square with his best friend Elijah, he’s walking and he sees Jesus coming in and everyone clamoring around him and he’s like look, no one messes with them. I want that now”

Jeymes Samuel On ‘The Book of Clarence’

It is evident that the film highlights the idea that the church manipulates the masses in order to gain power, serving as one of the overarching themes.

Christian viewers who watched the film may have been concerned by the numerous references to characters being referred to as gods. The depiction of God as a mere mortal could raise red flags for those with a strong understanding of theology. Additionally, the movie features explicit drug use and a scene in a brothel, clearly indicating that it is not a faith-based film. Attempting to interpret this movie through a Christian lens will inevitably lead to significant inconsistencies. It is therefore puzzling how many Christian critics overlooked these controversial themes. Their concerns were likely overshadowed by what they believed to be a deeper Christian message. However, the director himself has stated that “The Book of Clarence” is not centered around Jesus. Despite some Christians arguing otherwise, the creator himself denies this interpretation. If Jesus is not the main focus of the film, then what is?

“. . .there is a god in yourself and that’s super important. There’s a God in yourself and that’s like the most important thing . . .whatever your belief is, even if you have no faith, God is inside you and I want people to take that away from this movie”

Jeymes Samuel On ‘The Book of Clarence’

Initially, this may not seem too outlandish until we grasp the meaning behind his use of the term ‘God’. Throughout the interview, he frequently asserts that not only is God within him, but he himself is God, just like the other men present. If you find yourself perplexed, it is because these teachings stem from a religious group known as the Five-Percent Nation. The Five-Percent Nation is a black National religious movement that originated as a splinter group from the Nation of Islam. The name derives from their belief, among other things, that only 10% of young people possess true enlightenment and that they are responsible for keeping the remaining 85% of the world in ignorance. They claim to be the remaining 5%, dedicated to enlightening black individuals and providing them with truth and justice. Furthermore, they hold the belief that white people are malevolent devils, while black men are the divine superior race, referred to as the gods of the earth. They also assert that God is black mankind, among other beliefs that permeate the film, even down to its title. If you are curious as to why the lead character is named Clarence, it is because Clarence 13X is the founder of the Five-Percent Nation movement. This also sheds light on the recurring theme in the movie that ‘knowledge is stronger than belief’. ‘Knowledge’ is highly valued within the Five-Percent Nation, and it is worth noting that Jay-Z, the movie’s producer, is known for his affiliation with the Five-Percent philosophy. Additionally, Jeymes Samuel, the film’s director, frequently collaborates with Five-Percent rappers in his musical endeavors.

Understanding the underlying themes in the movie provides insight into its overall message, which reveals a troubling truth: these teachings are not simply hidden within the film’s intricate details, but rather, they have influenced the entire narrative, including the incorporation of ideas that go against biblical teachings. One clear example is the inclusion of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which now makes sense as it aligns with the story found in the Quran, which in turn influenced the Five-Percent movement. Moreover, the movie’s depiction of race, though unsettling, now carries even more significance when considering the Five-Percent theology’s belief that white people are inherently evil and the need for black people to unite against them. This explains why certain events unfold in the story, as they convey the intended message. However, it is important to note that these ideas contradict the biblical teaching that emphasizes the unity of all people in Christ Jesus, disregarding differences in ethnicity or social status. Additionally, it contradicts the Christian belief that all people, regardless of their race, are sinners.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

— Galatians 3:28, NKJV

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

— Romans 3:23, NKJV

Clarence, the main character in the film, experiences a shift from being a skeptic atheist to embracing faith in God. It is important to note that his journey towards redemption does not involve Jesus, which may be overlooked by Christians. This is due to the Five-Percent teaching, which asserts that God is black and all black men are considered divine. As a result, Clarence views himself as an enlightened black man, similar to a deity, and does not require Jesus for salvation. The recurring motif of light bulbs in the movie symbolizes this enlightenment. While the film mentions concepts like God and belief, their meanings differ significantly from traditional Christian beliefs. The portrayal of Jesus as black in the movie and the idea that Jesus is God in Clarence’s book stem from the belief that his divinity is linked to his skin color. This is why the protagonist gains miraculous abilities after his enlightenment. It is important for us to understand the perspectives presented in media, as they may inadvertently convey messages that challenge the core principles of grace in the gospel.

The film not only serves as a platform for exploring the symbolism of the Five-Percent, but it also serves as a reminder of the cautionary words spoken by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:14. In this verse, Paul warns us that even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of Light. It is important to remember that appearances can be deceiving, and just because something appears to be Christian on the surface does not necessarily mean that it is. In fact, the most convincing counterfeits are often the ones that closely resemble the original. This same principle can be applied to the message conveyed in this movie. While the book of Clarence may initially appear to be respectful towards Christian teachings, a closer examination reveals that its message is clearly contrary to biblical principles.

Contrary to the message conveyed in the movie, which suggests that white people are inherently more evil than black people, the truth is that there is only one morally perfect God, and all individuals, regardless of their race, are prone to sin and fall short of His perfection. In the Christian faith, black people are not considered as Gods or incarnations of God, as there is only one God. The only instance in which God took on human form was through Jesus of Nazareth, who sacrificed Himself for the sins of all mankind, irrespective of their race. Therefore, our Salvation does not stem from being black or acquiring extensive knowledge, nor does it come from worshipping our inner deity or focusing solely on ourselves. Instead, salvation is attained by acknowledging that we are all equally flawed when it comes to sin, and it is only through believing in Jesus, who accomplished what we could not, that we can find salvation through His goodness rather than our own.