What is “Black Jesus” and who is Woody Strode?
Black Jesus is a drama directed by Valerio Zurlini in 1968. He called upon Woody Strode, an African-American actor known for his supporting roles in many hit films, to play the main character Maurice Lalubi, an activist of the independence movement of his country. Patrice Lumumba, the first president of the newborn Democratic Republic of the Congo, inspired the character.
Strode, an athlete and football player, was famous for his roles in Hollywood films like John Ford’s Western movies (such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and the title character in Sergeant Rutledge), in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. Modern audiences may know him better as the old man Storyteller from the 1993 Black cowboy film Posse.
His sturdy physique is an important element to the representation of a role that within Black Jesus is subjected to psychological and physical violence. Strode said that this role was the most difficult of his entire career. Yet Black Jesus offered him the opportunity to participate for the first time in the Cannes International Film Festival (1968), which ironically was cut short that year due to worker and student protests in France. A few days after the end of Black Jesus’ filing, Sergio Leone called Strode to play in the first sequence of Once Upon a Time in the West.
This then led to Strode starring in various 1970’s “poliziottesco” movies (Tough Guy/Italian Super Cop films) directed by one of that genre’s legends Fernando Di Leo including The Italian Connection (1972) and Colpo in canna (1974), extending his career past the sporadic and often forgetful roles that Hollywood seemed to feel that he now deserved.
Woody Strode is just one of the brilliant actors that we cover in the ‘BlaxploItalian' documentary as we uncover 100 years of Blackness in Italian Cinema, directed by Fred Kuwornu.
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Curtis Caesar John
Associate Producer, BlaxploITALIAN