You might think it would be impossible for a TV series set thousands of years in the past to comment on contemporary American politics. But last night, hundreds of viewers of the History Channel miniseries The Bible took to social media to argue that the show had found a way — by casting Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, an actor who bears a striking resemblance to President Barack Obama, as Satan.
Perhaps inevitably, conservative commentator Glenn Beck was one of the first to comment on the physical similarity between The Bible's Satan and our 44th president. Beck originally made the comparison last week, while encouraging his followers to watch the upcoming episode:
The bible on the history channel Sunday.Best episode yet.Don't miss it.Does satan look EXACTLY like Obama?Y e s!
— Glenn Beck (@glennbeck) March 15, 2013
Beck pointed out the physical similarities again after Sunday's episode had aired:
— Glenn Beck (@glennbeck) March 17, 2013
Is the resemblance between the History Channel's Satan and President Obama just a coincidence, or is there a rather on-the-nose political statement here?
The Hollywood Reporter notes that The Bible producer Mark Burnett has donated to the Obama campaign and the DNC, suggesting that he bears the president no ill will. And Ouazanni is no stranger to biblically themed film and TV productions, so it's not as if producers had to go hunting for him. Over the past 20 years, Ouazanni has appeared in made-for-TV movies including David, which depicts the battle between Israel and the Philistines; Jeremiah, which chronicles the life of the titular prophet; In the Beginning, which adapts both Genesis and Exodus; and The Ten Commandments, which follows Moses as he attempts to free the Jews from slavery in Egypt. It's possible that the show was simply looking for someone with a proven track record in religious adaptations, and that the resemblance between Ouazanni and the president is just a coincidence.
Regardless of the underlying motives — or lack thereof — in this case, The Bible hardly represents the first time in recent years that a popular TV show has come under fire for making a political comment. Last year, HBO drew widespread criticism when it came out that an impaled head in the background of a scene bore the likeness of George W. Bush. HBO immediately apologized, recalled all the DVD sets of the series, and released a new version with the head digitally erased.
The Bible isn't likely to inspire a similar reaction. For one thing, it would be impossible to scrub Satan, a major character, from the series; for another, The Bible has plausible deniability on its side (unlike Game of Thrones, whose producers acknowledged the likeness on the DVD commentary).
Wanna judge for yourself? Ouazanni is slated to reappear as Satan in the show's ninth episode, "Passion," on March 31.
Update: History Channel and the show's producers call this comparison "utter nonsense." Read their statements at BuzzFeed.