Within the last three years, African literature has caught the attention of the global film industry. From Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun to Tracy Farren’s Whiplash to Uzodinma Iweala’s Beast of No Nation, African fiction has become an attractive archive of stories for filmmakers seeking to tell powerful and relatable stories.
The most recent adaptation is a 3D computer-animated superhero-action-adventure drama produced by UAE-based production house, Barajoun Entertainment. Titled Bilal: A New Breed of Hero, the movie is based on the 1000-year old story of Bilal Ibn Rabah‘s life—an Ethiopian slave who fought to regain his freedom from his Arabian captors. Bilal is an iconic figure in Islamic history. His conversion to Islam and subsequent companionship with the Prophet Mohammed has made his story stand out as an example of Islamic cosmopolitanism. Bilal’s story of rebellion and triumph is what the film seeks to capture.
With a 30 million dollar budget, expectations are high. From what we’ve see in the trailer, the production quality is top-notch. The producers assembled some of the best in the world to work on the project—“a team of about 250 animation professionals featuring members who have worked on movies such as Shrek, Life of Pi, Star Wars and The Avengers.” Cast members include British-born Nigerian actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje of Game of Thrones and Ian McShane of Pirates of the Caribbean. On sound track, we have no other than Akon.
Not only have the film producers done something really innovative and unprecedented with an African story, but they have also put a lot of effort and perseverance into the project to make it comparable to some of the greatest animated movies of our time.
“We’ve paid serious attention to detail. We hired 11 researchers, including doctors from universities, to research the history of the story, and we’ve taken all the characters’ descriptions from at least 17 different historical sources. We hired two forensic scientists to model the characters based on these descriptions and what we know about the tribes of the time. It took six months to design each character and we’re really proud of it. We’re showing the characters exactly as described in historical texts, not just using our imagination. We’ve spent 5,000 hours of research to develop clothes and props too.”- Shadow and Act
Adewale Akinnoye-Agbaje who was considered in 2009 to play the role of Marvel’s Black Panther is delighted to take part in the project and comments that the “timing is so, so right” for an African superhero”.
Here are a few stills from the film.