"I wasn't expecting God to be a black woman," Mack gasped.
"That's because you've never read any quasi-liberal, religious crap like this before," God laughed.
In simplest terms, this trope is showing a deity with a standard appearance in a form people don't expect to see it in.
People expect deities to look a certain way. They expect the Hindu Goddess Kali to be an Indian woman. They expect the Norse God Thor to be a red bearded Viking man (or blonde and clean shaven
). But what if a work shows Kali as a white man, and Thor as a tiny Chinese woman? Well, that would be this trope.
A common subversion on the "old white guy with a beard
" take on the Abrahamic God
is for God to take on the appearance of a minority group instead, usually either black or female (or both
). Sometimes, this stretches across to other religious figures, such as the Devil or angels. This could manifest as a subtle and humorous take on discrimination, or if done badly might come across as the Magical Negro
trope on steroids. Of course, it could also be nothing more than the creator doing something different.
Sometimes it will be hinted that people just see whatever they want to see
. This trope also shouldn't come across as a surprise for entities who are proudly shape shifters.
Note the example picture may or may not be a misleading example of this trope, depending on whether one thinks God is Morgan Freeman
or George Burns
. Also, just because an example of this trope involves taking the appearance of a minority group doesn't mean that it's also an example of Token Minority
. See also Race Lift
and Gender Flip
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Anime and Manga
- Combining this trope and Mukokuseki means that Shinto gods in Anime can look completely un-Japanese. Or gods from another religions/mythologies that don't correspond with the appearance of people from which said religions/mythologies appear. For example, the incarnation of Athena in Saint Seiya is a Japanese girl.
- The comic Crimson features an appearance by God as a mute little girl who sells flowers.
- Inverted in Lucifer somewhat in that God, after cycling through a dozen other forms, picks a portly, white, English gentleman. And is later replaced by a twelve-year-old girl.
- In The Sandman, Death is a Perky Goth girl rather than being The Grim Reaper.
- God has been portrayed as an elderly woman in earlier Spawn comics. And a fiery woman, at some point. And as a small black boy - with Satan as his sister. In Spawn God isn't really God God. Satan is his sibling as created by the "real" God God. They did their good vs evil schtick until the "real" God God got sick of it and made them little kids to give them "an appreciation for humanity". Also, the "real" God God is occasionally portrayed and often referenced as female. And was also Jesus. God God is called MoM (female) but it stands for Man of Miracles (male).
- The Thor: The Mighty Avenger series portrayed the Norse god Heimdall as a black man. This was justified by making Heimdall a shapeshifter who simply prefers to take on the form of a black guy. Perhaps as a nod to the controversy around Idris Elba playing Heimdall in the MCU (see below), the Marvel Universe version of the legendary Norse hero Sigurd is a young black man.
- In Valerian the Holy Trinity manifests as an obese private detective straight from early 20th century Noir, a stoned hippie with stigmata, and a broken one-armed bandit. The characters who come from the 22nd century Galaxity don't see anything strange about this, while the 20th century Christian character sees them as charlatans or usurpers. Just how real a deal they are is never clarified, but the Father claims to remember Moses fondly.
- In New Mutants, Native American Dani Moonstar became a Valkyrie.
- The legendary Norse hero Sigurd is depicted as a black man.
- Played with in the Italian satirical comic book Jenus: Jesus is represented as a white man (albeit short and with brown hair), but the fact he's supposed to be middle-eastern gets mercilessly and unsubtly lampshaded. Also, God himself is represented as the American-Italian Ronnie James Dio (as in God came on Earth in 1942 with the identity of Ronnie James Dio, sang a lot of music, and in 2010 he got pissed enough at the Church that he returned to Heaven). Justified as he's a shapeshifter that could have any form he wanted (and in fact the first time we saw him he was first a giant who suddenly became a flower in a vase), and Ronnie James Dio is just his favoured form.
- Similar to Jenus, the Italian satirical comic (see a pattern) Suore Ninja had the Virgin Mary appear as what many characters describe a beautiful Swedish woman before finding out who she is and pointing out she should look like a middle-eastern. Justified as it's actually an impersonator, a male real estate agent impersonating Mary to increase the value of the lands near Medjugore.
- Dogma: God appears as a slightly spacey woman played by Alanis Morissette toward the end of the movie. In a twist, He/She/It takes the form of a white-haired man with a beard - albeit poor and homeless - when (S)he visits Earth at the beginning of the movie. It is implied that Alanis appears because God's physical form is only a convenience for mortals, and She's what the ardently feminist protagonist needs God to look like. Presumably the old white guy- who was not witnessed by much of anyone but the camera (and some demons) - was simply habit. Rufus (the thirteenth disciple, and Chris Rock) mentions Jesus was black, which to an audience accustomed to a white Jesus may be another example of the same thing. Historical evidence suggests that Jesus had darker skin than what is usually depicted in Western artwork, but the perception remains that he looked fairly European.
- In Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty, God is Morgan Freeman (pictured), although it may be more accurate to say Morgan Freeman is God. But with that voice, who would mind?
- In Thor, its sequel, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Asgardian Heimdall is played by the black Idris Elba. The Norse god upon which he is based was called "the whitest of the gods." This caused a minor controversy.
- In Bedazzled (2000), the Devil is played by Liz Hurley and God is a black man.
- God is Whoopi Goldberg in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.
- The Legend Of Bagger Vance is apparently a retelling of the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic, with R. Junnah as Prince Arjuna and Bagger Vance as Vishnu/Krishna (who incarnated in the epic as Arjuna's charioteer). There were some calls of Unfortunate Implications, to which the movie-makers responded that the only way they could think of to portray the immense social distance between Arjuna and his charioteer was to make Vance a black servant.
- Spoofed and played for laughs in the third Major League movie. When the team's manager is hit with a line drive, he sees a blurry figure as he's coming to. He first guesses it be God, then Moses before fully coming to and recognizing it as Serrano, the team's Big Guy who was introduced as a Scary Black Man in the first movie before subverting that all to hell. Later in the scene, Serrano teases the manager about the terror on his face when the manager realized that God was black. The manager immediately quips "Yeah, I always thought she was white."
- This one is Older Than They Think: God was played by Black actor Rex Ingram in 1936's The Green Pastures.
- The first Oh, God! film had George Burns's God take multiple forms, including a black woman and a Hispanic busboy. Burns' own portrayal of God as a little old man could rate as a mild example, as Grandpa God is usually depicted as tall and strong-looking.
- A short film from the 1970s, Parable, reimagined first-century A.D. Palestine as a traveling circus and cast a whiteface clown as Jesus Christ and the other circus performers and carnies as his disciples. The Jesus-clown never spoke or even made a sound (except at the climax, when he screams while being crucified on a flying trapeze) and is completely white: white powdered face, white skullcap, white leggings and a short white toga. The toga was obviously supposed to evoke marble statues of Christ, but instead it makes the clown look literally like a statue, especially when he's viewed from a distance. He brings up the rear of the circus parade riding on a donkey, so we get the symbolism right off the bat. Of course, Jesus is also a clown (albeit a definitely human one) in the film version of Godspell.
- Parodied in 21 Jump Street: the undercover police HQ is located in a church in Koreatown featuring a statue of Jesus that looks Korean. One of the main characters briefly prays to "Korean Jesus."
- American Gods
- Mr. Ibis (Thoth) and his fellow Ancient Egyptian deities who live in Cairo, Illinois. Ibis notes that while for a long time, he and his family were just taken for foreign visitors, from the 1800s onward, people in the town assumed their Ambiguously Brown features meant they were black Americans, and thus from then onward, they've lived with/associated with that community in Cairo.
- Shadow is implied to have a black mother, making him multiracial. Word of God says he looks like The Rock. He is actually the incarnation of Baldr, described as pure white in The Eddas.
- In the Betsy the Vampire Queen series, Satan usually appears resembling actress Lena Olin, which is more of a Continuity Gag: Satan possessed Betsy's stepmother (then, her father's mistress) on a lark and ended up pregnant. "She" appears to Laura and Betsy in this form to remind them of their relationship.
- In Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality, in which ordinary human beings step into godlike roles at different times, the incarnation of Good (a.k.a. God) has been the Christian idea of the old white guy for quite some time. Eventually, he is replaced by a young woman of Indian and Caucasian descent. The incarnations of Fate and Nature are traditionally female and use the Greek names (Nature is Gaea, Fate is the trinity of Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos), but one Atropos is actually a disguised Gypsy man, and his predecessor was an African-American woman. The current Clotho is an Asian woman. And an incarnation of War (a.k.a. Mars) is a devout Hindu who doesn't believe in the role he's forced to fill.
- The Shack. In addition to a black female God, they have an Asian hippie as the Holy Spirit.
- "Female god" version in The Last Dragon Chronicles. However, She is also a dragon...
Live Action TV
- The Boondocks: This itself gets used in "A Huey Freeman Christmas," where Huey titles his school Christmas play production "The Adventures of Black Jesus." In the animesque cartoon, he says "Jesus was black, Ronald Reagan is the devil, and the government's lying about 9/11." Of course, Uncle Ruckus (no relation) sees that only white people get into heaven, and Ronald Reagan is St. Peter.
- A sort of example in one of Marcus Brigstocke's rants on The Now Show, in which he explains that in his head, God sounds like Dr Hibbert from The Simpsons. So for the rest of this routine, God is represented by a white British guy (Brigstocke) doing an impression of a white American (Harry Shearer) playing the voice of an African-American (Hibbert).
Real Life Religions
- Jesus was a Middle-Eastern Jew. He probably had brown skin, a large nose, and curly brown hair. No one knows exactly what he looked like and racial phenotypes two thousand years ago might not correspond at all to ones we're familiar with, but he was a good deal swarthier than most modern pictures make him look.
- In fact, as mentioned in this article, most cultures create images of Jesus as looking like themselves. This has led to depictions of Jesus as white, Black, and Asian. The image of the white man with long brown hair seems to have picked up the most momentum because Europe had one of the largest Christian populations, and one of the biggest outputs of art depicting him. This may eventually change, since most burgeoning Christian populations today are occurring on "darker-skinned" continents.
- Several people of all races have either claimed to be Jesus or were considered to be Jesus by their followers. These include Wovoka (Paiute), Haile Selassie I (Ethiopian), Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad (Indian), Hogen Fukunaga (Japanese), José Luis de Jesús Miranda (Puerto Rican), Hulon Mitchell, Jr. (African American), and David Shayler (English).
- Siddhartha Gautama, the Hindu prince who became the Buddha after attaining enlightenment, is often depicted in art as Indian or Chinese. Recent scholarship, however, has determined that Gautama, being an Indo-Iranian from somewhere in Central Eurasia and born to an aristocratic family that didn't mix with lower castes, most likely had wavy black or dark brown hair, light reddish skin, and a long, pointed nose; an artist's rendering of him with these features makes him look surprisingly European.
- In Chinese Bibles, God is referred to as "It" because the character for "he" includes the character for "man".
- To go from the example given in the introduction, Thor was a redhead. So was Loki who tends to be dark haired in adaptations.
- People from all over the world report seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary. They always report that she conforms to whatever the ideal of feminine beauty is in their culture. Being God's mother, this could be a self-imposed example.
- Most works of fiction produced in North American, European, and even some Latin American countries will depict the Greek love-goddess Aphrodite with blonde hair. In the 1967 Cream song "Tales of Brave Ulysses", however, Eric Clapton emphasizes her Mediterranean roots and explicitly mentions her "brown body" - necessarily (okay, not quite) suggesting that her hair would be black or dark brown. (Interestingly, the hair of Aphrodite's aunt Demeter, goddess of grains, is stated to be blonde - the color of wheat - in the recorded myths.)
- Since many religions believe that divine figures have the power to take on different forms and appearances, it wouldn't be too farfetched to say that they can look however they want. In fact, the convention of referring to the Jewish/Old Testament G-d as male probably only came about because Hebrew doesn't have any gender-neutral pronouns — you use the male pronoun when you're talking about a mixed-gender group.
- A painting of Pele at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park generated controversy because it depicted the goddess as being Caucasian. It, however, remained in the visitors' center from 1966 to 2005. In 2003, a contest was held to make a more culturally-authentic depiction of the goddess. Out of 140 entries, a group of Native Hawaiian elders selected this◊ painting by Arthur Johnsen, and it replaced the other one in 2005.
- Part of Ellen DeGeneres' routines involving meeting God. God is very naturally a black woman with a very nice house filled with baby pictures of Jesus ("Jesus riding on a tricycle, Jesus going trick or treating in a cowboy outfit") and regularly invites people around for coffee and cakes. And has the same habit of getting lost in conversations as Ellen does. Rumor goes that Ellen was supposed to play the big deity herself in a remake of Oh, God! before the film went into development hell.
- There's a joke about an astronaut who gets sent to the center of the galaxy, and his spaceship goes missing. When he suddenly returns, he calls the Chinese and tells them "I saw God. Pay me or I'll bring the end of your political system." Then he calls the Americans and tells them the same thing. They respond with "What do we care? This country was founded by people who believe in God." Then the astronaut says "Yeah, but they didn't know She's black..."
- In Exalted, where there are literally millions of deities, the chief one, the master of the world and so on and so forth (the Sun) has a form of a four-armed man. However, his original form, before he favored humanity above other races was that of a huge golden dragon, with hundreds of arms and blazing eyes with galaxies in them. Prior to this shift he was also the racial deity of a Mayincatec dinosaur-people, so he's consciously aware of his image change. And that's way fucking cool.
- In Mac Wellman's play Sincerity Forever, Jesus H. Christ is a black woman with a heavy suitcase. The Most Magical Negro Ever Told.
- In Bruce Jay Friedman's Steambath, the afterlife is a steambath, and God is the Puerto Rican attendant there. In 1973, a televised showing of the play (on PBS, of course) showing of the play garnered a bit of controversy for this (and more controversy for the fact that Valerie Perrine bared her breasts in the broadcast, making history as the first actress to show her nipples on U.S. television).
- God ("De Lawd") in The Green Pastures, though He's not really a token since the rest of the cast is also black.
- Oracle Of Tao: God usually appears throughout the game as the Triforce. When actually pictured in battle, God looks like Pistis Sophia (Holy Spirit), a sort of Mother Earth archetype (God), and a female Jesus on the cross. This picture takes up the who screen with an Amazing Technicolor Battlefield showing a few different creation myths spliced together.
- Touhou: Suwako is a blonde Shinto goddess of Earth. And she was supposed to have carved significant chunks of Japanese land into existence.
- Prince Shotoku —here known as Toyosatomimi-no-Miko and is a girl— looks like a very Caucasian boy, even though Japanese nobles from his time claim descent from Amaterasu.
- Shou also looks like Caucasian boy despite being a disciple/avatar of Buddhist deity Vaisravana. In her case, she was a tiger prior to becoming an avatar, so the light-brown hair is justified.
- In Overcompensating, the Devil is a black woman, while God is white trash (although He still has a beard). Erm, Unfortunate Implications much? At least they're both equally Jerkass.
- The Devil in Narbonic is stated to be female, although she is not seen on-screen.
- Satan, Andy's girlfriend on Casey and Andy is female as far as the rest of the cast is concerned- (s)he Has Many Forms, though, including a giant terrifying demonic one which certainly appears to be male, and which actually shows up pretty regularly. God seems to be male (and is dating "Andina" in the Dimension of Hackneyed, Stereotyped Opposites).
- Boy Meets Boy features the Devil as a woman named Lucy.
- Death in Finders Keepers is a rather personable Perky Goth who seems to have some sort of relationship with Cardinal. Other Powers That Be have been mentioned, but are so far firmly in The Omniscient Council of Vagueness territory.
- Luci Phurrs Imps has God and Jesus as black men, Jesus is pretty laid back but God has nearly ended the world several times, only being distracted by watching 'planets funniest animals'
- An episode of American Dad! had Steve envision God while stranded in the Saudi Arabia. She appeared to him as Angelina Jolie. He was able to convince everyone of God's wise words, including the easy, fair way to peace in the Middle East. Until he said God was a "she".
- The New Zealand cartoon Bro Town features Pacific Islander characters — including a Pacific Islander God. And an entirely white Jesus. You figure it out.
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Gaia, the spirit of Earth and Big Good. Voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, she falls somewhere in between But Not Too Black and Ambiguously Brown. Ironically, heroes and gods from Greek Mythology are usually depicted as white, despite being from the Mediterranean. This Gaia probably looks more authentically Greek than most, even if she does have purple hair. According to the show's own website she's supposed to have features from numerous races—dark skin (African), almond-shaped (Asian) blue eyes (Caucasian), etc. Any connection to Greek myth is In Name Only (especially since the mythological Gaia was rarely anthropomorphic and kept giving birth to monsters).
- Family Guy:
- According to Stewie, Jesus is actually Chinese, and his full name is "Jesus Hong." He has no idea where people are getting "Christ" from.
- There was also a Cutaway Gag about "Black Jesus." He is shown preaching to a crowd of entirely white Israelites, thus fitting the trope perfectly.
- In the episode where he actually shows up, Jesus is shown to be a self-hating Jew. (He looks like the standard Hippie Jesus, but Peter takes a peek down the front of his underwear to verify his Jewishness.)
- Moral Orel: Parodied somewhat where Buddha has the voice and mannerisms of an effeminate southern man.
- In South Park, God doesn't even appear as a human — he's a hippo/monkey hybrid. He's also Buddhist - therefore, a member of a religion that generally denies the existence of a physical God (you figure it out). Satan, on the other hand, is gay.
- The Garfield In Paradise TV special had Jon and the pets vacation on a tropical island whose inhabitants apparently worship James Dean. (According to native legend, a man who looked exactly like Dean once drove his car into an erupting volcano to appease the demons within it and save the islanders, and now whenever the islanders see a classic '50s car, they think their god has returned.)
- The Norse deity Heimdall is black in Avengers Assemble and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., taking a note from the movies.
- Averted in several Chick Tracts. Even those that are "adapted for black audiences" show Jesus as white, albeit more Semitic than usual. Here is an example.