Denzel Washington Being Cast As Hannibal In New Netflix Movie Has Caused Controversy In Tunisia

Photo Credit: Richard Corkery / NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Richard Corkery / NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images

Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua will be teaming up once more, this time for a film about famed Carthaginian general Hannibal. The feature, which is being produced for Netflix, will center around the Second Punic War, in which Carthage and Rome faced each other in one of the deadliest conflicts in history.

Denzel Washington speaking at a podium
Denzel Washington, 2019. (Photo Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images for WarnerMedia)

Very little is currently known about the production, other than the fact that Antoine Fuqua will direct a script written by John Logan, the mastermind behind Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) and Martin Scorsese‘s The Aviator (2004).

Along with acting in a yet-to-be-announced role, Denzel Washington will also serve as producer on the movie, alongside Erik Olsen and Adam Goldworm. Frank Moll and Jeremy Lott are slated to executively produce.

This will mark the fifth time Washington and Fuqua team up together, with the pair having previously worked on Training Day (2001) and the three Equalizer films, the latest of which was released in 2023.

Illustration of Hannibal and his army crossing the Rhone
Hannibal and his Carthaginian Army crossing the Rhone. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

On December 11, 2023, Variety reported that the news of Denzel Washington being cast in the film has sparked controversy in Tunisia, which was the home country of Hannibal. Citing the French publication Courrier International, the website revealed there have been complaints over the famed military leader being depicted as a Black-African male.

Speaking about the casting, Member of Tunisian Parliament Yassine Mami said that Hannibal was of West Asian Semitic origin, adding, “There is a risk of falsifying history: we need to take position on this subject.” Similar statements have been made by the Tunisian newspaper Le Presse, which published an editorial that said such a depiction of the military leader would be, “according to Tunisians and many observers, a historical error.”

The country’s Culture Minister Hayet Ketat-Guermazi has taken a different stance, saying, “It’s fiction. It is their [Netflix’s] right to do what they want. Hannibal is a historical figure and we are all proud that he was Tunisian. But what can we do?”

Statue of Hannibal on horseback
Hannibal. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Hannibal was a Carthaginian general who led his men into battle against the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War. Raised by his father to forever hate the Romans, his skills as a military leader made him one of the most legendary generals in history, with the Carthaginian force, consisting of at least 40,000 soldiers and dozens of elephants, crossing the Alps.

The elephants that made the journey with Hannibal’s men didn’t just serve as transportation. Their size and bulk made them ideal for breaking through the Roman lines, leading to an unprecedented victory in 216 BC with the Battle of Cannae. Their success was also the result of an ingenious maneuver, in which the Carthaginians enveloped and trapped the enemy.

As National Geographic reports, the engagement is among the deadliest days of combat ever fought by a Western power.

Antoine Fuqua leaning against a balcony barrier
Antoine Fuqua, 2016. (Photo Credit: Christopher Polk / Getty Images for Sony)

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The upcoming Hannibal feature isn’t the only ancient war epic Denzel Washington has in the works, as the actor is currently working on the sequel to Gladiator, which was recently paused as a result of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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