Black Actors Give Bible Star Appeal

More than 400 black actors, artists and ministers are bringing the Gospel to life in the audio book, The Bible Experience:The Complete Bible. Farai Chideya talks with producer Kyle Bowser and actress Wendy Raquel Robinson, who lends her voice to the project.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Now, moving on, Forest Whitaker as Moses, Tisha Campbell Martin as Mary Magdalene - well, that's all in "The Bible Experience." A New Testament edition was released in 2006. This edition is billed as "The Complete Bible." It doesn't have one person reading the gospels. It features nearly 400 African-American artists, actors and ministers, plus sound effects.

Just listen to Blair Underwood's rendition of Jesus on the cross.

(Soundbite of audio recording, "The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible")

Mr. BLAIR UNDERWOOD (Actor): (As Jesus) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

CHIDEYA: Now, we've got two people affiliated with the project with us today. Kyle Bowser, he co-produced "The Bible Experience" and actress Wendy Raquel Robinson, one of the actors in "The Bible Experience," and she also stars in the CW series, "The Game."

Hi folks, how are you doing?

Ms. WENDY RAQUEL ROBINSON (Actress): Great.

Mr. KYLE BOWSER (Co-producer, "The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible"): Great. How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. Now, Kyle, how did this project come about?

Mr. BOWSER: Hmm. A couple of winters ago, while Christmas shopping, I purchased an audio bible and hoped that I would finally get through the Bible by listening to it in my car. And I had failed to read the Bible as I'd promised. And after listening to a couple of disks, I was very disappointed. It just didn't really resonate with me. There was a lack of real production value. And the idea struck that perhaps we should try to do this ourselves and bring the Hollywood experience that we have to the process. And I think we have accomplished that goal.

CHIDEYA: Were you ever afraid of crossing a line and saying, okay, we're going to make this too Hollywood - the Bible is going too Hollywood? And I'm thinking of all the criticism of Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ."

Mr. BOWSER: No, that thought never really occurred to me. I think the gospel is applicable wherever you go including Hollywood. If anything, I was a little concerned about the idea of profiting from the Bible. But after consulting with some theologians and my grandmother, I got over that quickly.

CHIDEYA: Now, Wendy - now, you were the voice of an angel in the book of Revelations. Let's take a listen to that.

(Soundbite of audio book, "The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible")

Unidentified Man: A second angel followed and said,

Ms. ROBINSON: (As Angel) Fallen. Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.

Ms. ROBINSON: That (unintelligible).

CHIDEYA: What did you - yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So - I mean, it's not bad to be an angel.

Ms. ROBINSON: No.

CHIDEYA: Other than that, what made you want to do this?

Ms. ROBINSON: You know, it's amazing. I feel like I got kind of bombarded the project. I knew Robi Reed who was also the casting director, and (unintelligible) who was actually working on it. And one day, I happened to be there and I saw a demo of what they were doing. And I said, hands down. How can I be a part of this?

So I just pretty much put myself into it because I was just so drawn by the emotion, by - I mean, of course, you know, any time you're doing something that's related to the Gospel and to the Bible, you know - immediately I was drawn to that. But it was just so different from any project that I've ever been attached to or had even, you know, been around. So I was just - I basically - I bombarded the project myself.

CHIDEYA: Now, Kyle was just saying that he had a hard time listening to other audio bibles. Obviously, people are getting very much into the iPod…

Ms. ROBINSON: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: …and podcasting, listening to this-that and the other in your car. Do you think that this opens up other people to the - I mean, we just did a series on religion not too long ago. Certainly, not every one is Christian. Not every black person is Christian, but there is…

Ms. ROBINSON: Right.

CHIDEYA: …plenty. Do you think this opens up new experiences for people who are plugging in or plugged into Christianity?

Ms. ROBINSON: Oh, I think it definitely does because not only is it the actual goal in its presentation, but it is the, you know, it's the true word of God, too. So you're getting both in one, you know? It's really difficult for me to listen to books on tape or, you know, just basically even - I don't care if these just sermons or anything like that.

But with this, you know, you'd get the fullness of it, you know? You get the sound effects; you get the emotions; you get the authentic word of God, you know? And it's really easy listening to, and before you know it, you'd do the entire New Testament, you know - before you know it, so it's awesome.

CHIDEYA: Kyle, now, the first Bible experience was the New Testament. It won 2007 audio book of the year - that's high praise. What kind of fan mail have you gotten that really warms your heart?

Mr. BOWSER: Well, I'm glad you ask that question because so often, people ask about the success of the project and it counts the question in a monetary context. I think the only way to really measure the success of "The Bible Experience" is to look at the fan mail, to look at the e-mails and the cards and the letters and the personal testimony that we hear.

I have a cousin who, three months ago, was struck by a car while riding his bike. And he's been laying paralyzed for the last three months. And on his second day in the hospital, he whispered in his wife's ear, asking for her to bring a copy of "The Bible Experience" to his room. That's the kind of evidence of the success of "The Bible Experience." It speaks to your soul.

And for me, as a Christian and many others, as Wendy said, it is the definitive word of God. But for others, it's enjoyable because it is so dramatic. It is so emotionally powerful. You know, it's historically accurate whether or not you apply the faith analysis to the word. So much of what's written in the Bible has been proven to be historically accurate and we capture all of that so wonderfully.

CHIDEYA: Wendy, what's it like for you to be a part of this ensemble? It's one of the largest ensemble cast of black actors, I guess you could say.

Ms. ROBINSON: It's bigger than "Roots."

CHIDEYA: It is.

Ms. ROBINSON: No. Oh, it is. I feel like it's a part of history. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to cut you off. Go ahead.

CHIDEYA: No, that's - it's true.

Ms. ROBINSON: But I'm honored, you know? I mean, Blair Underwood, Forest Whitaker, you know, Angela Bassett. So, so many of the celebrities that I admire and look up to were a part of this. But that's not why I was drawn to it, but it just takes it to a whole another level for me on so many different levels.

And to see these other artists, you know, praising God through their work, you know. It's an anointed piece, you know, because you can't half-step with God. You know what I mean? You have to really drink it, so when they did the interpretations in the studio and if you even get a chance to see the video portion of it, it's amazing. I mean, it just brings you to tears emotionally. And just, you know, really reliving those moments, you can actually see these characters within the Bible come to life.

CHIDEYA: Kyle, very quickly - I mean, super quick. Any future plans? It's - you kind of gone to both testaments, what have you got left?

Mr. BOWSER: Well, we - meaning me and my partners - are all thinking about different ways that we can continue to share this wonderful experience in whatever medium is available - visually, through audio product, through all of the distribution technologies that are available. So please, stay tuned for that.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, Kyle and Wendy, thanks so much.

Mr. BOWSER: Thank you.

Ms. ROBINSON: Oh, great. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Kyle Bowser co-produced "The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible," and actress Wendy Raquel Robinson is one of the voices featured in "The Bible Experience." She's also starred the CW TV network show, "The Game."

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