Roma Downey Tells Oprah 'The Bible' Controversy Was 'Heartbreaking'

The casting of actor Mohamen Mehdi Ouazani as Satan for The History Channel's 'The Bible' mini-series has sparked debate for his apparent likeness of President Barack Obama.
The casting of actor Mohamen Mehdi Ouazani as Satan for The History Channel's "The Bible" mini-series has sparked debate for his apparent likeness of President Barack Obama. | (Photo: The History Channel/File)

Oprah Winfrey hosted Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the producers behind the hit miniseries "The Bible" on The History Channel, on her show Oprah's Next Chapter on Sunday, where the couple spoke about the resemblance between President Obama and the actor who played Satan.

"The night before that broke in the news, Jesus had made his first appearance on the screen and I was so looking forward to Monday and knowing that Jesus would be on the lips of everyone," Downey, known for her 10-year role on the TV series "Touched By An Angel," told Oprah. "For Satan to be the point of conversation was really heartbreaking," she added.

Her husband, however, was uncomplaining. "If you're gonna do what we do for a living, which is stick your neck out there … it's a free country and you got to accept that," said Burnett, who is the creator of reality TV shows such as "Celebrity Apprentice," "Shark Tank," "Survivor" and "The Voice." Soon after the episode was telecast last month, criticism began to feature on various social media sites about the similarities between Satan and Obama, compelling The History Channel to issue a statement.

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"The series was produced with an international and diverse cast of respected actors. It's unfortunate that anyone made this false connection.

History's 'The Bible' is meant to enlighten people on its rich stories and deep history," the channel said. Despite the controversy, the conclusion of the miniseries on Easter Sunday garnered 11.6 million viewers. Downey clarified on Oprah's show that it was not intentional, and that she felt the show was hijacked. "I honestly was horrified," she said. "We love the President, we have nothing but respect for the President. We felt somehow hijacked."

She also spoke about her show's ratings coup. "We were delighted throughout the run of the series we saw various headlines – 'God Beats Zombies' – was my particular favorite," she said. Downey, who apart from being co-producer played the part of Mary, the mother of Jesus, earlier told The Christian Post that "The Bible" was a "passion project" for her and her husband.

"I've loved Jesus all my life." Interviewed in October by bestselling author and pastor Rick Warren for a taped segment shown during a business summit at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., Burnett said, "I have had great fear, but my fear isn't of the failure of the project.

It's looking back later having done nothing. It's a very serious fear. The fear of not making a meaningful contribution, of being insignificant, of looking back [and thinking] that I didn't step up. I am honestly petrified of that, or I was, and my pain of feeling like I let myself down, my family down, and not taking the risk to do it was far greater than the pleasure of being calm." The Motion Picture Corporation of America is now reportedly producing a $20 million, six-hour miniseries serving as a spin-off of "The Bible," titled "Jesus of Nazareth."

"We believe the audience continues to have a hunger for life- and faith-affirming films," Michael Landon Jr., a Christian producer and writer for "Jesus of Nazareth," recently told The Hollywood Reporter. "The monumental success of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's 'The Bible' just underscores that," Landon added.

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