(NEW YORK, NY) — Lebanese-American Muslim actor Haaz Sleiman will play Jesus in a new National Geographic Channel film, an adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s book “Killing Jesus.”
Sleiman, who was born in the United Arab Emirates, was raised in Lebanon and moved to the United States when he was 21 years old. He previously starred in the 2008 indie drama film, “The Visitor,” where he played an undocumented Syrian immigrant.
Most recently, he had a recurring role in USA Network’s Covert Affairs, and in CBS dramas “Person of Interest” and “Reckless.”
“Traditionally Jesus has been played by a white man and I think the fact that this is a Middle-Eastern actor is significant,” Matthew Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter, told ABC News.
One blogger called the selection of Sleiman “shocking.”
“I mean, if you were filming a Martin Luther King, Jr., miniseries, you wouldn’t cast Jim Caviezel or Diogo Morgado in the lead role. It’d be ridiculous and racist and insulting,” wrote blogger David Henson.
O’Reilly, who will serve as executive producer of the film, says “Killing Jesus” is a history book about Jesus the man, not the Messiah.
“The film (Killing Jesus) will break new ground in chronicling the life of the most famous human being who ever lived. The superb cast and script reflect much thought and research. Viewers are in for something very different and very special.”
Killing Jesus will premiere globally on the National Geographic Channel in 2015 in 171 countries and 45 languages.
Watch ABC News’ report about O’Reilly’s new film: