JAY-Z has partnered again with The Harder They Fall director Jeymes Samuel for their next major film collaboration. The Book of Clarence is a larger-than-life odyssey that depicts its inhabitants as we’ve never seen them before. And only EBONY has the first look at the film’s trailer.
“What happens when we, people of color and powerful women, occupy and inhabit a space? I knew I had to put our spin on it and inject our flavor into it.”-Jeymes Samuel
Set against the backdrop of 33 A.D., The Book of Clarence centers around its title character (portrayed by LaKeith Stanfield), a man inspired to become the next Messiah for personal gain. But his journey turns out to be a bigger exploration of faith and loyalty than he could have imagined. The film also stars David Oyelowo, Teyana Taylor and Alfre Woodard as real-life biblical figures.
Samuel shares that he approached directing The Book of Clarence with respect and honor to grand biblical movies of yesteryear, like The Ten Commandments. But, “as much as we love these films, there are no Black people in there,” he declares. “What happens when we, people of color and powerful women, occupy and inhabit a space? I knew I had to put our spin on it and inject our flavor into it.”
“He’s fearless and a genius,” JAY-Z says of Samuel. “He’s not afraid to think big about things that put us as a people in places where we were erased. We didn’t exist in Western times? We all know that’s false. And we didn’t exist in biblical times? History would say otherwise.”
Stepping into the producer role has allowed the hip hop icon to be hands-on in every aspect of filmmaking. “I’m a storyteller. You tell a story in your music: there’s a beginning, middle and end, and you got to have a melody and the hook that comes in. The structure is pretty set when you’re creating in music,” he says. “Part of the reason I wanted to work with visual media is that you get to expand that story and explore the depth of characters and small things they do that inform who they are. I just love that.”
“Part of the reason I wanted to work with visual media is that you get to expand that story and explore the depth of characters and small things they do that inform who they are.”JAY-Z
To recreate a time that was 2,000 years ago, Samuel used one of the world’s oldest spaces as his backdrop. “We shot this film in Matera, Italy, the fourth oldest inhabited city,” he reveals. “The whole place is ancient; you’re there, you can do an aerial 360 shot and you’re still in the Bible days. The place hasn’t been changed. It still has the caves, and I used every last foot of material to make this movie.”
He adds, “They were supportive of us being there as well. Seeing all these Black people descend on this town is something for the ages. And then I said I needed camels in the scene. It’s the most amazing. We were literally in that space and time.”
Along with its massive visual scope, the film explores themes of classism and racism. “These things existed way before the times that we’re living in,” JAY-Z reflects. “When you show prejudice in a historical form, it gives way to how ridiculous it is.”
And then there’s the music. In addition to writing and arranging new music for the score, Samuel uses the hit song “Nights Over Egypt” by The Jones Girls in a pivotal scene. “The whole ethos for me about the story of the everyman in that place and time is: where did Mary Magdalene and all those people get their hair and nails done? Where did Jesus buy his sandals? Who are those people and what kind of things do they do? They’ll go to the club,” he declares. “It won’t be called a club, but they will go to a gathering with instruments and people are playing music because human beings do not change; humans are humans.”
For those who assume that The Book of Clarence is just a faith-based movie, JAY-Z stresses that it’s much more. “I would just like audiences to see Clarence’s full journey. A lot of times when you’re dealing with a story and religion is anywhere next to it, people shut down and immediately say, ‘Ah, that’s blasphemous,'” he exclaims. Instead, see this as an exploration “of a guy who grew up in the times when Jesus came to age. This is Clarence’s arc.”
From their first collaboration on the 2021 Western epic The Harder They Fall, JAY-Z says these two films are just the beginning for the dynamic duo.
“These things have been in the works—well, it must have been with Jeymes maybe his whole life. But for me, close to 10 years,” he shares. “We’ve been talking about the Western and The Book of Clarence as well as the next films since the beginning.”
And there’s no better place to start than the dawn of the Christian era.
Watch EBONY’s EXCLUSIVE first look at The Book of Clarence trailer below: