Netflix just keeps getting itself into this kind of trouble. Already this week we told you about race swapping row in Painkiller. That was on top of the issues raised by the Egyptians over Cleopatra and the same approach. Now the Tunisians have accused Netflix of “stealing” their history by casting Denzel Washington as General Hannibal in an the film about the military leader who almost toppled Rome.
Hannibal, known as Rome’s greatest enemy, attacked via the Alps with cavalry, infantry, and, famously, elephants. Hannibal was a Carthaginian of Phoenician background, meaning he was pale-skinned. He was also in his late twenties when he invaded what is now Italy during the Second Punic War in the third century BC.
So Netflix has cast a sixty-eight year old Denzel Washington in the role.
Yassine Mami, president of the tourism and culture committee, raised the issue in Tunisia’s parliament, saying that there was “a risk of falsifying history” by having a black actor represent the general. He went on to say that it is important to defend Tunisian identity and that it would be a gross historical error because Hannibal was a “white Semite”.
The Tunisian culture ministry was then asked to enshrine in law measures protecting and fostering Tunisian culture and to act against what it termed as an attempt to steal their history via American “Afrocentric historical revisionism.”
The as-yet untitled movie will be directed by Washington’s long-term collaborator Antoine Fuqua and was written by John Logan, the man behind Gladiator.
Hayet Ketat Guermazi, Tunisia’s culture minister, defended the project, saying that the most important thing is that Netflix is shooting some of the movie in Tunisia.
Hannibal was a common Semitic Phoenician-Carthaginian personal name. It is recorded in Carthaginian sources and is a combination of the common Phoenician masculine given name Hanno with the Northwest Semitic Canaanite deity Baal (“Lord”) a major god of the Carthaginians ancestral homeland of Phoenicia in Western Asia.
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