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Will moviegoers have the same ‘passion’ as Gibson?

Actor Mel Gibson wants to put it all on the table. “Let’s talk,” he told Diane Sawyer during an exclusive on ABC’s Primetime on Monday. “People are asking questions about things that have been buried a long time.”

Up for discussion: The last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ. Gibson will graphically display those moments in his new film, The Passion of the Christ, which hits theaters one week from today — Ash Wednesday.

The movie’s content is causing a stir in religious sectors. Some are saying Gibson’s portrayal of the Jews’ role in Jesus’ crucifixion goes too far and that it has the potential to incite anti-Semitic sentiments toward Jewish communities.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who praise Gibson for his work. Some religious leaders say the movie will lead hundreds of people to Christ. After reviewing the movie, the Pope reportedly said, “It is how it was,” which Gibson and others took loosely to mean he endorses the film. It will be interesting to see exactly how the religious world embraces or rejects this film once it is released.

Gibson maintains the film should in no way be used to speak ill of the Jewish faith. He’s merely retelling the story based on Biblical accounts, as dictated through Gibson’s interpretation. In fact, Gibson included himself as being to blame for killing Jesus.

“We all did,” he told Sawyer. “I’ll be the first in the culpability stakes here.”During one scene in the movie, Gibson’s left hand is shown holding one of the iron stakes in Jesus’ hand as Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Already some have billed the film as shocking and overly violent. Gibson said he spent about $30 million dollars of his own money to make it that way. And the gory reputation that’s preceding the movie’s debut doesn’t seem to be turning away everyone.

Here in Tampa Bay, the Christian radio station Spirit 90.5 is giving away 900 tickets to a preview, according to ABC Action News. Spirit DJ Gus Lloyd told Action News he hopes people will see what Jesus did for humanity and change their lives. Congregations across the country have reportedly booked entire theaters, buying every ticket, so their members can have a private screening of the movie.

Still there are those who ask, “Should we be questioning our differences during a time like this?” That “time” critics speak of, I’m sure, is a reference to our post-Sept.11 world. We have a war on terror to fight, for which President Bush has continuously called for nations to rally with the United States in supporting. The last thing we need is a global religious war and fingerpointing about who killed Jesus Christ.

I can’t wait to see whether viewers take the lessons about “faith, hope, love and forgiveness,” that Gibson expects, or they focus more on the story line and who played what roles.

In late 1997, I went to see the movie Amistad with my aunt and cousin. Amistad is based on the true story of a group of African captives in 1839 who tried to take over a slave ship and sail back home. It definitely included some graphic content not suitable for all ages, as will The Passion. Yet, based on an exit poll of 193 moviegoers, nearly 100 percent of all moviegoers said they would recommend the movie, according to

I remember walking out of the theater, my aunt, my cousin and myself being the only blacks at this particular showing and feeling like you could cut the tension with a knife. The white moviegoers had expressions ranging from enlightenment to guilt. Some even opened the doors for us as we exited the theater.

While it’s not as easy to pick out a Jew in a crowd as it is a black person, I’d hope this movie leaves an impression about humanity instead of religious background. No matter whether you seek religious leadership from a rabbi, a priest or a reverend, if you go see The Passion, you should leave the theater feeling enlightened about humanity.

Kevin Graham is a former Oracle Editor in Chief.