The Book Of Clarence: Everything We Know So Far About The Biblical Epic Starring LaKeith Stanfield And Omar Sy

It took something like 15 years for Jeymes Samuel to fully bring his filmmaking powers to bear in "The Harder They Fall." The musician-turned-filmmaker has been pretty outspoken about his journey to get his passion project made, and all the hurdles he faced in reclaiming the western. It's not every day that a film like this gets off the ground in such a major way — but Samuel isn't going to let another 15 years pass before realizing another cinematic dream.

While the buzzy western already has us on the look-out for a sequel, Samuel's actually hard at work on a very different project. "To me, 'The Harder They Fall' is like my 'Reservoir Dogs,' my 'She's Gotta Have It,'" Samuel recently told Deadline. Both films were the debut features for Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee, respectively. Their follow-ups came in quick succession — and it seems like Samuel's next film, "The Book of Clarence," will have a similar turnaround.

What is The Book of Clarence?

Samuel's second feature is a biblical epic with a twist. It takes inspiration from Classic Hollywood films like "King of Kings" and "Ben-Hur" — and Samuel will the switching out the traditionally-white casts of those films for a more diverse ensemble.

Produced by Legendary, "The Book of Clarence" follows a "down-on-his-luck denizen of Jerusalem" who aims to use "the rise of celebrity and influence of the Messiah for his own personal gain." His journey, misguided as it is, will inevitably lead him "on an exploration of the idea of faith and to a highly unexpected path of his own."

Samuel spoke at length about "The Book of Clarence" at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. The multi-hyphenate has been planning this project for a long time — even as he was writing "The Harder They Fall," "Clarence" was an idea on the horizon. He even went so far as to tease his second project in the 2021 film.

"I gave a huge Easter egg in 'The Harder They Fall' to what my next movie is," Samuel told Deadline at the time. RJ Cyler's Jim Beckwourth quotes the Book of Clarence in the film: "Like you say in the Book of Clarence, 'Can't no man outspeed me.'" It sounds like the book of Clarence could be an apocryphal gospel (in lay terms, a book omitted from the Bible) in Samuel's universe. If so, it'll be interesting to see just how close the story will hew to biblical canon.

The Book of Clarence will turn the biblical epic upside down

Until very recently, there weren't many historical epics acknowledging the ethnic diversity of the era. Most biblical tales take place in an incredibly diverse region, and at a time when Jerusalem was something of a melting pot. Still, white actors are consistently cast as Jesus or his disciples (like in 2018's "Mary Magdalene," above). "Even when Andrew Lloyd Webber made something as nuanced as 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' there's no Black people in it, except Judas," Samuel mused. "'I'm going to betray you, Jesus.' What the hell? That's what you're giving us? That's the Black guy?"

"The Harder They Fall" turned our gaze to the systematically overlooked Black community in the Old West, and Samuel will aim to do the same with "The Book of Clarence." "You saw what I did with the Western. I want to give people something to talk about."

Samuel will also use this film to explore the questions he always had about the Messianic era:

"When I used to learn about those things when I was a kid, I used to say to myself, 'Where did Jesus buy his sandals from? Did he walk around barefoot? Did he buy his clothes or did people just say, "Hey Jesus, wear this?" Was there a particular brand that he liked, or a particular tailor who made his shawl? Where did Mary Magdalene get her hair done? [...] What currency did they spend?' All that stuff the Bible doesn't speak of fascinates me about the era. The Bible just gives you bricks. But the mortar you're meant to fill in yourself. I want to show who he bought them from and what that guy was doing. What the guy that sold him those sandals had for breakfast, for dinner. Who was in the hood? Who was the troublemaker, or the cool dude that the girls liked? Who was the kid with aspirations? Who was the nincompoop? [...] 'The Book of Clarence' is all of that stuff."

When and where you can watch The Book of Clarence

"The Book of Clarence" will open in theaters on September 22, 2023, per an announcement from Sony Pictures Releasing (which is handling distribution). Samuel's been pretty adamant about securing "a viable theatrical component" for the movie — and with Legendary Pictures producing, it's no surprise the film was able to secure just that.

This will be a nice change from "The Harder They Fall." While premiering on Netflix made the film much more accessible to audiences — and pretty much allowed Samuels to produce the film on his own terms — Netflix releases tend to get lost in the streamer's ever-expanding catalogue. With pandemic guideline gradually waning, a hybrid release is helping straight-to-streaming pictures achieve some real staying power. Who knows when "The Book of Clarence" will find its way onto a streamer, but the scope of the story and its massive cast put this firmly in the territory of a "must see in theaters" film.

The cast of The Book of Clarence

Samuel's first film boasted a pretty stacked cast, but "The Book of Clarence" effectively blows it out of the water. Samuel will reunite with three cast members from "The Harder They Fall": LaKeith Stanfield, RJ Cycler and Chase Dillon. They're joined by Omar Sy, who stars in Netflix's "Lupin," as well as Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, Alfre Woodard, David Oyelowo, Caleb McLaughlin and Anna Diop.

And that's not all: Marianne Jean-Baptiste ("Secrets and Lies," "Boxing Day"), Babs Olusanmokun ("Star Trek: Strange New Worlds"), BAFTA winner Micheal Ward ("Empire of Light," "Lovers Rock"), Tom Glynn-Carney ("House of the Dragon") and Teyana Taylor have also joined the cast in undisclosed roles. Like I said: stacked.

We know Stanfield has been cast as the titular hero of this story, Clarence, but the rest remains under wraps. Let's hope the rest will be revealed as filming begins in Italy. (My money's on Sy for Jesus, though.)

Everything we know about the Book of Clarence crew

Samuel will re-team with Jay-Z and James Lassiter — both producers on "The Harder They Fall" — as well as former Netflix executive Tendo Nagenda. "Book of Clarence" will also reunite Samuel with costume designer Antoinette Messam. Cinematography will be handled by Rob Hardy, who collaborated with Alex Garland on "Ex Machina" and "Annihilation," and most recently served as DP for "Mission: Impossible — Fallout." As with his first feature, Samuel will also be composing.