Israeli actors, Palestinian embroidery steal show in 'Mary Magdalene'

Coexistence meets the silver screen as Israelis adorned with cloth embroided by Palestinians tell the world's most famous biblical tale.

Rooney Mara as the title role in Mary Magdalene (photo credit: COURTESY OF TRANSMISSION FILMS)
Rooney Mara as the title role in Mary Magdalene
Aviv Alush, Jim Caviezel, Ewan McGregor, and now: Joaquin Phoenix. It seems like portraying Jesus is the hottest role in Hollywood. And the latest biblical epic film, Mary Magdalene, is hitting theaters soon... sort of.
The blockbuster film is set to be released in the UK on March 16 – in time for Easter – but its US date is still up in the air. That’s because the film was supposed to be distributed there by The Weinstein Company, which has been in disarray since the accusations leveled against Harvey Weinstein last fall. In January, the company canceled the scheduled March 30 US release date for the film, and its American future remains unclear.
But in the UK, Australia and a slew of European countries the show will still go on. While Alush, an Israeli, played Jesus in last year’s The Shack, this time around the role went to the American Phoenix, while the title character is portrayed by Rooney Mara. And though the film is set in the Holy Land, of course, the actual shooting took place entirely in Italy.
But there are still plenty of Israeli faces to be found throughout the film.
Hadas Yaron, best known for her roles in Fill the Void and Shtisel, and Shira Haas, who also appeared in Shtisel as well as Foxtrot and The Zookeeper’s Wife, both make appearances in the movie. The film also features Lior Raz, the co-creator and star of Fauda, and Tzahi Halevi, who has also been seen in Fauda as well as Hamidrasha. Zohar Strauss, from Srugim and Shtisel, and Uri Gavriel, from Lihiyot Ita and Fauda will also be seen on screen.
And there’s another Middle Eastern element that will grace the film’s big screen debut: embroidery, hand-sewn by Palestinian women living in Jordan.
The film’s costume designer, the Oscar-winning Jacqueline Durran, used the designs and work of the SEP organization in Jordan. The company says its “artists are Palestinian refugees in Jerash, Jordan, who live in a tightly knit community, traditionally with little access to independent incomes. They continue the time-honored cross-stitch technique that has been passed down from generation to generation, passionately making the unique pieces that compose the SEP range.”
According to an article in The Jordan Times on Saturday, 27 Palestinian women worked on costumes for the film. The article quoted Durran as saying that working with the team was “an incredibly rewarding experience.”
According to SEP’s website, the company created “all of the movie’s costume embroideries. The costume designers provided SEP with ancient biblical- days patterns and precise instructions and the magic fingers of the SEP artists did the rest: Voilà a trip back in time to Biblical Jerusalem.”