Over the span of a few months in 1989 you drew the ire of the Catholic Church with Madonna’s 'Like a Prayer' video and directed 'Pet Sematary,' which featured a zombie cat named Church. Cosmic poetry, or coincidence?
It was just a perfect storm! Madonna and I, by that time we were really solid friends and we really trusted each other. We had dinner together one night and she said she wanted me to direct a video for 'Like a Prayer.' We got in whatever black Mercedes she was driving at the time and just drove around Hollywood. We drove up to Mulholland and we listened to the song, just driving around Hollywood, pumped up on her car stereo.
I’m like, ‘Wow, this is a song about how sexual ecstasy mirrors religious ecstasy.’ And she was like, ‘Yeah! And I want to [have relations with] a black guy on the altar!’
The resulting imagery ended up being groundbreaking as social commentary: The burning crosses, black Jesus, setting it in a church.
In the Catholic Church it has to go through the priest: You can’t even pray directly to God, you have to go through the priest and the priest prays for you. It’s all very patriarchal.... God talks to the priest, the priest talks to the man, and the man tells his wife what to do. The women are right at the very bottom, down there with animals in terms of any kind of freedom of speech or expression.
That was all part of the dialogue. We wanted to take certain things that are a given or a convention and say, why couldn’t it be this? Why couldn’t Jesus be black? Why can’t sexual ecstasy be equated with religious ecstasy? Is it wrong to enjoy sex? Is it wrong to enjoy prayer, for that matter? Why does it have to be a dull or confining thing? I knew there was going to be some controversy but I wasn’t prepared for how much. It was fun.
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