An audio Bible with an all-black cast featuring Blair Underwood, as Jesus, and Samuel L. Jackson has been a runaway hit in the United States, dominating Wal-Mart's bestseller list since its release.
The spoken word set of CDs, Inspired By...The Bible Experience: New Testament has been at or near the top of the retail giant's best-selling books since its release in October, a rare occurrence for an audio book, let alone a religious book.
The 21-hour production features dozens of notable American film and music entertainers, including actors Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Angela Bassett, musicians MC Lyte, Common and Heavy D and former athletes turned actors Jim Brown and John Salley.
"It's really good and it's transcending every barrier. We're thrilled with the way that the product has turned out," said Paul Caminiti, vice president and publisher of Bibles for Zondervan, a Grand Rapids-based division of News Corp.-owned HarperCollins.
In Canada, the audio book hasn't made the same dent. Amazon.ca currently lists it as the 99th top selling audio book. But it's been a hit in the United States,sellingover 70,000 units.
The project is the brainchild of Kyle Bowser, a former television executive with shows such as Roc and In Living Colour. Bowser, who is black, said he wanted to create a version of the Bible that could inspire, particularly in the black community.
"The production value was lacking and I thought, gee whiz, if we could do this and really capture people's attention, how much more impactful and engaging it might be," he said.
When it came time for a casting-call, Bowser said very few actors turned down the job.
Underwood, who headlines the project as Jesus, is most known for his role on 1980s legal drama L.A. Law.
There's also a certain irony in Samuel L. Jackson playing God, as the actor first came to prominence playing a hit man on Pulp Fiction with a passion for spouting passages from the Old Testament book of Ezekial.
Jackson won't be returning as God in the Old Testament version of the audio book, due out in 2007, because the speaking role is too large. Among the celebrities slated to have roles in the Old Testament audio book are actor Robert Guillaume as Noah and Judge Greg Mathis as Solomon.