I learned recently that Rachid Bouchareb, a Franco-Algerian producer-director, is taking on the biopic about Angela Davis, political activist and professor emerita of UC Santa Cruz.
His choice for the lead? Beyoncé Knowles.
I’m really interested in seeing what this will look like. It’s a film about an African-American woman activist during the ‘60s and ‘70s, directed by a man who wants the role to go to a former Destiny’s Child member, with a screenplay written by Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former Algerian army officer.
Hearing about the film got me thinking about what would be the best way to represent such an important figure. Although Beyoncé is “ a whole lotta woman,” it would be kind of a shame if images of Beyoncé with an afro conjured up more associations with Foxxy Cleopatra from “ Austin Powers in Goldmember” than Angela Davis during the middle of the American civil rights movement.
I’m not knocking Beyoncé’s acting abilities. I also don’t have a xenophobic suspicion of the creators’ motives for the film. Just the opposite.
The movie will have an outsider’s perspective of American history, given that the filmmakers are Algerian. Some might worry that this means less authenticity. However, after learning about writer Moulessehoul’s life, I realized that in the end it’s more about making a link or connection with others across international barriers.
You’re probably wondering, “ What could a former Algerian army officer possibly have in common with an ex-FBI fugitive who wants to abolish the prison system?”
Though Davis’ and Moulessehoul’s experiences with prison fell on opposite sides of the line, Moulessehoul dealt with a different type of incarceration in Algeria.
After his father left him in a military academy at the tender age of nine, Moulessehoul comforted himself and sought escape through literature. As a grown man, Mohammed Moulessehoul adopted the pen name Yasmina Khadra (Jasmine Green) to avoid censorship from the oppressive military regime during the civil war in Algeria.
While on the military man worked amid the brutality of civil war, Yasmina Khadra wrote against the corrupt and idle leaders of Algeria and the Islamists on the other side of the conflict.
“ The day was divided in two,” Moulessehoul said in an interview with The Guardian. “ Most of the time I was at war. The rest was for writing.”
After revealing that he wasn’t an oppressed Muslim woman, Moulessehoul exiled himself to France.
He still uses the pen name Yasmina Khadra for most of his work, including the Angela Davis script.
It’s interesting that Moulessehoul would even choose to write a screenplay about Davis’ life.
Maybe Moulessehoul sees in Angela Davis the strong woman he envisions in Yasmina Khadra. When Moulessehoul could not find the courage to speak out against the brutality in Algeria, Yasmina was there to express her opinion in print.
Given her history of resistance and perseverance, Angela Davis is the perfect model for strength in trying times. And Moulessehoul’s own story is all about strength, as well as the power of art and entertainment as a way to spread ideas.
Though Moulessehoul was technically in a position of power during his time in the Algerian army, these women — Davis, a real life inspiring political figure, and Yasmina, a fictional person with the power to move thousands of readers — are much more powerful than the army officer could be on his own. As the old saying goes, the pen really is mightier than the sword.
If Yasmina Khadra could have such an influence in the literary world, why not ask the same of Angela Davis in film?
Maybe Bouchareb does want Beyoncé solely for her notoriety — entertainment is a big part of the film industry. The outsiders’ perspective that Bouchareb and Moulessehoul could bring to this film has the potential to show the human ties that transcend borders and time, and entertainment is a good vessel to carry messages.
Davis will be at an event hosted by the Inside Out Writing Project this Tuesday at 7 p.m. I wonder what she would have to say about Beyoncé playing her in a role.
Either way, the film deserves a chance. Although Rachid Bouchareb should know that Halle Berry told Jet magazine in January that she wants to play Angela Davis “ badly, so badly.”
Beyoncé isn’t the only African-American actress in the world. Just saying.