Earlier this year, Mauritanian filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissako, revealed that, for his next film (following the great success that was “Timbuktu”), he was considering an adaptation of Lebanese author Amin Maalouf’s “Leo the African,” a historical novel based on the real-life of Hasan al-Wazzan, also known as Leo Africanus, a 15th century Moorish explorer, diplomat and author, best known for his book “Descrittione dell’Africa” (“Description of Africa”), which lays out the geography of North Africa.
Whether or not he’s still pursuing the idea isn’t public info yet.
What has been announced is that there’s a second Leo Africanus film in development with French-Moroccan actor Jamel Debbouze on-board to star. Per Deadline, the feature film will also be an adaptation of Amin Maalouf’s book, but Sissako’s name isn’t attached to this project. And based on what I know of how these things work, there can’t be 2 films in the works based on the same novel, at the same time. One of these productions currently claims the rights to Maalouf’s book; both of them can’t – again, not simultaneously.
Debbouze’s film will be produced by Symply Entertainment Beirut and Paris-based 3B Productions, as an official Lebanese-French co-production. Sissako’s name is not listed in the report – not even as a producer, with a search for a director on the way.
I’ve made an inquiry into whether Sissako is still pursuing his Africanus project, and whether he’s involved or even aware of Debbouze’s film; no reply yet.
Leo Africanus was born in Granada, in 1485, and died around 1554, in Tunisia – a traveler whose writings were Europe’s principal sources of information about Islam, for centuries. Educated in Morocco, he was an avid traveler, typically on commercial and diplomatic missions through North Africa. During one of his trips through the Mediterranean, he was captured by Christian pirates and, because he showed extraordinary intelligence, he was presented as a gift to Pope Leo X, as a slave, who was impressed with his smarts, and would later free him, having persuaded him to profess Christianity, and had him baptized. His name was changed to Giovanni Leone, after converting, and he enjoyed favor in scholarly Roman society, learned Latin and Italian, and taught Arabic. Around 1526 he completed his greatest work, “Descrittione dell’Africa” (a geographical breakdown of Africa). He eventually returned to North Africa, where he is believed to have died a Muslim.
There is very little actually known about his actual life, and author Amin Maalouf’s book fills in historical episodes, placing Leo in the company of many of the key historical figures of his time, including three popes, (Leo X, Adrian VI, and Pope Clement VII), two Ottoman emperors (Selim I and Suleiman the Magnificent), with appearances by Boabdil (the last Moorish king of Granada), Askia Mohammad I of the Songhai Empire, Ferdinand of Spain, and Francis I of France, as well as the artist Raphael and other key political and cultural figures of the period.
Legend has it that Shakespeare based his Othello on Leo Africanus.
It was the author’s first novel, published in 1986 to much critical acclaim. You can pick up a copy here.