LaKeith Stanfield Is A Regular Guy Who Knows Jesus In The Book Of Clarence

Despite flopping pretty hard at the box office, Disney's second go at turning its classic Haunted Mansion ride into a successful film managed to only further cement LaKeith Stanfield's status as our current genre king. Think about it: be it horror satire ("Get Out"), murder-mystery ("Knives Out"), or supernatural crime-thriller (the anime adaptation "Death Note" ... okay, maybe we're all better off forgetting that one), it seems Stanfield is committed to turning over every genre stone there is. He's even tried his hand at a Western, playing the real-life outlaw Crawford "Cherokee Bill" Goldsby in Jeymes Samuel's profoundly entertaining "The Harder They Fall."

"The Book of Clarence," Samuel's follow-up to his feature directing debut on "The Harder They Fall," sees him and Stanfield putting their stamp on another historically white genre: the Biblical epic. The film, which was even name-checked by Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler) in "Harder," casts Stanfield as Clarence, a regular guy in ancient times who just happens to know Jesus Christ. Clarence is angling to join the ranks of his apostles, but he remains skeptical about the whole Messiah thing. "I wanted to tell a Bible story about an everyman," Samuel told Vanity Fair as part of the outlet's exclusive first look at the film. "I always wanted to explore the Bible stories, but from the angle of the person that sells Jesus his sandals, the woman or man that owns the hair salon."

As someone who "doesn't believe in anything outside of what's in front of him, what he can see and hear," Samuel sees Clarence as a perfect stand-in for the audience in the film's setting. "I think it's just a really interesting vantage point to explore living in that particular time and place, where most everyone around him is speaking about the Messiah," he explained.

Don't call it a faith-based movie

"Faith-based movie" has become quite the loaded term, with Christian dramas like "God's Not Dead" and this year's church-adjacent "Sound of Freedom" scoring huge profits (and somehow birthing a franchise in the former's case, bizarrely enough) despite being laughably bad, or in the latter's case, having extremely problematic links to QAnon. For that reason, you can understand why producer Jay-Z (who also backed "The Harder They Fall") is keen to emphasize "The Book of Clarence" isn't really a "faith-based movie." Speaking to Vanity Fair, he explained how faith acts as a "backdrop" to the story rather than the main focus:

"My fear is that people don't allow that arc to take place, and are immediately judging. This story is about a young man who finds his faith through love and through wanting to become somebody in the world, which is the story of everybody. Everyone wants to find love and everyone wants to leave this place having accomplished something, having left their mark that they've been here and hopefully affected the world in a positive way."

Samuel has surrounded Stanfield with quite a dazzling list of actors in the film's cast, including Omar Sy, Anna Diop, RJ Cyler, Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, David Oyelowo, Alfre Woodard, and Teyana Taylor. The filmmaker has spoken before about wanting to follow Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee in one-upping his feature directing debut with a more audacious and ambitious sophomore outing, citing "The Ten Commandments" and "Ben-Hur" as the template for what he's going for here. If "Book of Clarence" is anywhere near as witty and robustly stylized as "Harder," Stanfield might just have a shiny new feather to add to his genre cap.

"The Book of Clarence" is scheduled to reach theaters on January 12, 2024.