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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 Token Minority group instead, usually either black or female (or both). Sometimes, this stretches across to other religious figures, such as the Devil or angels. Done well, it can be a subtle and humorous take on discrimination. Done badly, it comes across as an Anvilicious attempt at generating liberal guilt, and a particularly extreme use of the Magical Negro trope.
Sometimes it will be hinted that people just see whatever they want to see.
Note the example picture may or may not be 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 Token Minority group doesn't mean that it's also an example of Token Minority. See also Race Lift.
- 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 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.
- To cash in on the popularity of the live-action Thor film, the all-ages Thor: The Mighty Avenger series portrayed the Norse god Heimdall as a black man.
- The New 52 Wonder Woman series has the deity Apollo portrayed as a black man.
- In 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 may be another example of the same thing.
- Serendipity (a muse) says that when she inspired the writers of The Bible she wrote God as being female, which the male writers promptly re-wrote as male. Both Rufus and Metatron refute this though and insist that God is neither male, female, or anything else and imply that whatever physical form He takes is simply arbitrary with no real method or intention behind it.
- In Bruce 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 the Norse god Heimdall was played by the black Idris Elba. This caused a minor controversy.
- In the 2000 remake of Bedazzled, 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.
- The Shack. In addition to a black female God, they have a Asian hippie as the Holy Spirit.
- Played with in American Gods through 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.
In a way, the protagonist Shadow himself also qualifies; earlier in the book, someone trying to rile him asks if he has "nigger blood" and there are also some references to his mother possibly having some Native American ancestry, so the character is definitely multi-racial. His mother's ethnicity is never specified, but she is described as being completely atypical of Wednesday's usual "type", pale skinned blondes. Shadow is significant because he is actually the incarnation of Baldr, described as pure white in the Eddas.
- In Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality, in which ordinary human beings step into godlike roles at different times, the incarnation of Good has been the Christian idea of the old white guy for quite some time. Eventually, he is replaced by a young woman. The incarnations of Fate and Nature are traditionally female, but one incarnation of Fate is actually a disguised man. And an incarnation of War is a devout Hindu who doesn't believe in the role he's forced to fill.
- 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 aof their relationship.
Live Action TV
- Black God on The Sarah Silverman Program.
- Teen Angel: Rod -- semi-deity and cousin of the real God -- was the floating head of Ron Glass. In one episode he also played the Devil's cousin Neville.
- In Joan of Arcadia God took lots of different forms, possibly as a deliberate attempt to subvert both "old white man God" and "female/black/child/whatever God OMG!" Entirely appropriate for a show based on the song, "(What If God Was) One of Us".
- One episode of Blossom featured God as an irreverent, pool-playing Hispanic man.
- On the original British version of Cracker, the lead character is present during a natural childbirth. As the delivering mother is (obviously) in pain, he leans in and asks "Still think God is a woman?" (Of course, he is an archetypal Jerkass...)
- On All in The Family Archie and Henry Jefferson get into an argument over the race of both Jesus and God, Henry claiming that they are both black. It comes up in another episode when Archie accidently locks himself in the basement. He gets drunk and becomes convinced he's dying and that the neighbor trying to rescue him is God coming to take him to heaven. In a Crowning Moment of Funny "God" turns out to be a black guy, causing a horrified Archie to fall to his knees begging forgiveness for everything he's ever said about blacks.
- On Daves World, Shel's young daughter goes as God for Halloween explaining that He is in fact, like her, a black woman.
- Spoofed in Wonder Showzen. God is a black man, and he blew up the Earth because he didn't like the way "You honkey-ass crackers are keeping the black man down." Wonder Showzen being what it is, he gets defeated in Rock Paper Scissors and kills himself.
- The Kids in The Hall: Played for comedy in a sketch in which Scott Thompson's character sees a vision of a dead friend, who says he's in Heaven. Thompson asks "And how is God? That big, black lesbian in the sky?"
- Pushing Daisies: The temporarily-revived corpse of the episode sees Emerson and inquires if he's God.
- In Good Times, JJ paints an otherwise traditional-style image of Jesus, which freaks out devout Christian Florida because A) he's black B) he looks like Ned The Wino and C) The Evans get a streak of good luck immediately upon JJ hanging up the painting.
- The OutKast album "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" has an Andre 3000 skit, where he prays to god, who to his surprise is a woman. This causes him to rethink a lot of things, and he closes the prayer with "Amen. ...I mean... Ah Lady."
- The Dishwalla song "Counting Blue Cars", (AKA: that song that goes "Tell me all your thoughts on God.. 'cause I'd really like to meet her.")
- The Boondocks: This itself gets used in "A Huey Freeman Christmas," where Huey titles his school Christmas play production "The Adventures of Black Jesus."
Real Life Religions
- Jesus was a Middle-Eastern Jew. He probably had brown skin, a large nose, and curly brown hair (the brown hair is Canon). 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.
- Wovoka claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus and was Paiute.
- 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 hair, light skin, and a long, pointed nose; an artist's rendering of him with these features makes him look surprisingly European. (This could lead to Unfortunate Implications, since it would suggest that every major religious tradition in the world except for Taoism and Shintoism originated with light-skinned, round-eyed Indo-European and Semitic peoples.)
- 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 Tall, Dark and Bishoujo in adaptations.
- People from all over the world report seeing aparitions of the Virgin Mary. They always report that she conforms to whatever the ideal of feminine beauty is in their culture.
- 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. 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.
- 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).
- The completed webcomic 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'
- In South Park, God doesn't even appear as a human -- he's a hippo/monkey hybrid. He's also Buddhist. Satan, on the other hand is gay.
- 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. In the episode where he actually shows up, Jesus is shown to be a self-hating Jew.
- The New Zealand cartoon Bro Town features Pacific Islander characters -- including a Pacific Islander God. And an entirely white Jesus. You figure it out.
- Moral Orel: Parodied somewhat where Buddha has the voice and mannerisms of an effeminate southern man.
- 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).
- 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".
- Averted in several Chick Tracts. Even those that are "adapted for black audiences" show Jesus as white. Here is an example.