Beyond Skin Deep: Denzel Washington's Hannibal Casting Sparks Controversy in Tunisia

According to the French newspaper Courrier International, there have been numerous complaints in the media and parliament in Tunisia because the warlord will be portrayed by a dark-skinned actor

by Sededin Dedovic
Beyond Skin Deep: Denzel Washington's Hannibal Casting Sparks Controversy in Tunisia
© Jim Spellman / getty Images

The recent announcement of the casting has sparked a fierce controversy in Tunisia. Hollywood actor Denzel Washington is set to play the legendary Carthaginian general Hannibal in the upcoming film, a decision that has drawn criticism from some Tunisians who believe the casting is historically inaccurate.

Hannibal, a military genius who rose to prominence in the 3rd century BC, hailed from the region that is now modern-day Tunisia. Its Carthaginian heritage and pivotal role in history remain a source of immense pride for the Tunisian people.

However, some argue that Washington's portrayal, as a dark-skinned African-American actor, deviates from their understanding of Hannibal's historical ethnicity.

Members of Parliament discussed the role of Hannibal

Jasin Mami, a member of the Tunisian parliament, expressed his strong disapproval of the casting choice.

He emphasizes Hannibal's West Asian Semitic origins, arguing that presenting him as dark-skinned "risks falsifying history". Similar views echoed in the media, and several publications criticized the election decision. However, Tunisia's Minister of Culture, Hayet Ketat Germazi, takes a more pragmatic view.

Recognizing the fictional nature of the film, she believes Netflix has the artistic freedom to portray historical figures as they wish. Acknowledging the historical debate, Germazi hopes the film will offer opportunities for cultural exchange and potentially include filming locations in Tunisia.

He stated that this could be an opportunity for Tunisia, if there is filming in their country as well.

Strong and famous names are working on the film

The untitled film is expected to explore Hannibal's military might and key battles against the Roman Republic.

The script, written by John Logan, boasts a strong pedigree with credits including Martin Scorsese's The Aviator and Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Acclaimed director Antoine Fuqua, who has collaborated with Washington on several projects, including the recent The Equalizer 3, will helm the film.

While Denzel Washington's role has caused controversy, the film itself has the potential for historical research and cultural exchange, and the actor himself is one of Hollywood's best and most successful. The character of the warlock Hannibal is known all over the world, so that, in combination with the main actors and high production, promises a successful film.