Home » News: Tunisia rejects the black African origins of Hannibal in a new movie starring Denzel Washington

News: Tunisia rejects the black African origins of Hannibal in a new movie starring Denzel Washington

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Denzel Washington

The announcement of Denzel Washington’s casting as the legendary Carthaginian general Hannibal in Antoine Fuqua’s upcoming Netflix movie has ignited a spirited debate in Tunisia, the historical homeland of the iconic military commander.

The casting choice has raised questions about historical accuracy and the portrayal of Hannibal, leading to a nuanced discourse within the Arab community in Tunisia.
Contrary to the initial excitement surrounding Washington’s casting, some voices in Tunisia argue that the portrayal of Hannibal as a Black African is historically inaccurate.

While the film aims to bring to life the exploits of this ancient warrior, the portrayal of Hannibal as a Black African instead of an Arab has raised objections in the Tunisian media and even within the country’s parliament, according to French newspaper Courrier International.

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“There is a risk of falsifying history: we need to take position on this subject,” the Tunisian member of Parliament Yassine Mami reportedly stated.

“To consider Hannibal as a black African would be, according to Tunisians and many observers, a historical error, because Carthage, built by the Phoenicians in the current Tunisia, is located just 200 kilometers southwest of Sicily,” Tunisian news outlet La Presse reported.

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Hannibal Barca, born in 247 BC in Carthage (present-day Tunis, the capital of Tunisia), is renowned for his remarkable military campaigns, including leading an army of warriors and elephants across the Alps to challenge the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War. The geographical location of Carthage, now part of Tunisia, forms the backdrop to the historical controversy.

According to reports, there has been a growing debate within Tunisia about the depiction of Hannibal as a Black African in the Netflix production. Some Tunisian observers argue that this portrayal is a “historical error.” They point out that Carthage, founded by the Phoenicians, is located just 124 miles southwest of Sicily, suggesting that Hannibal was of West Asian Semitic origin, Variety reported.

Hannibal embarked on his legendary campaign into Italy, leading a North African war elephant as his symbol of power. Under his command, the Carthaginians achieved significant triumphs over the Romans, securing his rule over the majority of southern Italy for a remarkable 15-year period. However, Hannibal’s dominance was ultimately challenged when the Romans mounted a counter-invasion in North Africa, culminating in his defeat at the historic Battle of Zama.

There is even a petition on Change.org demanding Netflix cancel the project because “this miscasting and falsifying History is unacceptable and unethical.” The petition also asked for Tunisia’s Ministry of Culture to “act against this attempt of stealing our history,” Fox News reported.

But Tunisian culture minister Hayet Ketat-Guermazi doesn’t see the selection of Washington as a problem.

“It’s fiction. It is their [Netflix‘s] right to do what they want,” she responded, according to French newspaper Le Monde. “Hannibal is a historical figure and we are all proud that he was Tunisian. But what can we do?”

She added she is trying to negotiate with Netflix to shoot at least a portion of the film in Tunisia. “I hope they decide to shoot at least a sequence of the film here and that that this is publicized. We want Tunisia to go back to being a location where foreign films are shot,” Ketat-Guermazi said.

Antoine Fuqua was also the director of Denzel Washington’s latest project, “The Equalizer 3,” where Washington reprised his role as the former Marine Robert McCall. Fuqua and Washington have collaborated for other films like “Training Day” and “The Equalizer” series of films–2014’s “The Equalizer,” and 2018’s “The Equalizer 2.”

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