Jeymes Samuel’s venture into Biblical storytelling, ‘The Book of Clarence,’ essays an ambitious epic of a commoner’s self-actualization journey during the lifetime of Christ. Clarence of Jerusalem is a down-on-his-luck street hustler who dreams of becoming a somebody despite his drab and unimpressive background. As such, despite not believing in the rising Messiah, Jesus Christ, and his miracles, Clarence decides to cash in on the former’s glory by faking his way into being an apostle. When the same fails, Clarence decides to take a gander at being a second Messiah itself, which opens a chaotic can of worms, pushing the man to face his reality and beliefs.
The film, as much a comedic undertaking as a drama, presents a relatable story within a familiar backdrop that remains no less riveting for it. Thus, as the audience follows Clarence in his brazen adventure, where names like Jesus of Nazareth and Mother Mary are in attendance, curiosity is bound to rise about the story’s basis in truth.
A Fictional Tale Set In Biblical Times
Despite its setting in AD 33, Jerusalem, ‘The Book of Clarence,’ is not based on a real-life historical story. Likewise, even though Biblical characters and religious Christian imagery appear in frequency and significance within the narrative, the film is not based on a biblical account. Instead, Jeymes Samuel’s self-written and directed film is a work of fiction simply unfolding at one of the most influential times in history.
At its barebones, ‘The Book of Clarence’ is a story about a regular man seeking glory and eminence in an effort to leave his mark upon the world. Since such a tale can unravel at any point in time, Samuel chose the time of the New Testament to bring an unprecedented take on the Biblical movie genre. Growing up in a Catholic household, with regular Church visits on Sundays, Samuel grew up learning about stories from the Bible. Furthermore, like the masses, he remained a fan of many Biblical movies, such as ‘The Ten Commandments,’ ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told,’ and ‘Ben-Hur.’
However, the filmmaker couldn’t help but feel a disconnect between such movies and his own life. Speaking about the same in a conversation with Deadline, Samuel said, “So they’ll [Samuel’s family] be telling us these stories, and then you’d look at the films, and although I loved those films, the environment, and the people just looked nothing like the environment and the people I was growing up in.”
“So I wanted to tell a story about the environment that I grew up in but set in those days and kind of show how nothing’s changed and how alike we all are,” explained Samuel. As such, with a pre-existing knowledge of the religion, thanks to Bible Studies and extensive research on the more mundane details of the time period, Samuel set off to make a film about a quintessential “Regular Joe” in Jerusalem in AD 33.
Samuel remained intrigued by the unspoken detail in the Bible— about things like the person making Jesus’ sandals or cutting his and his neighbors’ hairs. “There’s so many little things it [The Bible] doesn’t cover where I’m fascinated by those things just because of the everyday necessities in life,” he said. “I just thought this was a brilliant way to show how much we are all similar, how much really nothing’s changed, whilst showing how much I love that genre.”
As a result, ‘The Book of Clarence,’ a film in the making since 2017, was born. Nevertheless, with such a daring undertaking, it wasn’t until Samuel came across his perfect leading man that the narrative really took shape into its ultimate form.
Clarence’s Inherent Relatability
In crafting Clarence’s story and character, Samuel wanted the man to be as approachable and empathetic as possible. “[But] Clarence is just a regular guy from the hood, and he looks like just a regular unassuming guy from the hood that, like most of us in the hood, really believe we can fly,” the filmmaker said when discussing Clarence’s character. “When we shake off all of the oppression and the shackles. We really believe we can fly and do magnificent things.”
Similarly, Jay-Z, the film’s producer, also spoke to Vanity Fair about the significance of Clarence’s character in helming the film’s true core outside of its faith-based backdrop. “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,” the musician said. “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.”
Therefore, the film needed someone who could embody Clarence for all his authentic cornerstones that hold up his narrative. Moreover, since Clarence has a twin, Thomas, who is at once the former’s polar opposite and the other side of the same coin, Samuel wanted to find an actor who possessed the nuance to depict both characters. Ultimately, the filmmaker discovered exactly what he was looking for and more in LaKeith Stanfield.
“LaKeith Stanfield, from the opening scene, brings you into the Bible days. He’s just a tour de force of a performance,” Samuel told ScreenRant in an interview. Thus, with an authentic protagonist, relatable narrative, familiar time period, and established genre, ‘The Book of Clarence’ charts a story that seems rooted in realism. Nonetheless, the film is entirely an original idea about a riveting adventure through history that— at times, projects satirical social commentary.