The announcement of a Netflix movie about Hannibal Barca, an ancient general and statesman, has sparked controversy in Tunisia. The choice of American actor Denzel Washington for the role has been criticized by Tunisian social media users, who believe he is too old to play the character, who was in his thirties during his conquests.
Within the context of Afrocentrism, a movement that emerged in the 1980s to highlight African contributions to world history, there is an ongoing debate about casting decisions. This movement often emphasizes the African roots of ancient Egyptian civilization, a claim that has been disputed by historians, as reported by our correspondent in Tunis, Lilia Blaise.
The Hannibal controversy also raises broader questions, including concerns about the cultural appropriation of North African history by Americans. Meryem Belkaïd, an associate professor in Francophone and postcolonial studies at Bowdoin College in the United States, observes that the West struggles to tell cinematic stories where it does not play a “central role,” generating controversy whenever a film ventures beyond its current boundaries due to the glaring lack of stories representing minorities.
Fans of Hannibal, organized into clubs and associations, have various avenues for recourse, according to writer Abdelaziz Belkhodja, an enthusiast of the ancient Carthaginian general considered one of the greatest military leaders of antiquity. In 2002, when actor Vin Diesel attempted to portray Hannibal as a bloodthirsty hero, these dedicated fans sent a letter to the production team, highlighting historical inaccuracies and biases.
The debate surrounding Netflix’s ‘Hannibal production underscores the intricacies of representing historical figures in film, particularly when it comes to cultural and historical sensitivity. As discussions around authenticity, representation, and cultural perspectives intensify, the controversy becomes a reflection of broader issues in the film industry.