"African Pirates" Novel "Those In Peril" By Wilbur Smith Being Adapted For Big Screen (Concerns...)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
March 29, 2012 12:34 PM
4 Comments
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I usually look up book titles whenever announcements are made about any being adapted to film - especially if I'm not familiar with the novel. Ya just never know what its content might hold, and whether it'll relate to this site's interests.

Rarely ever is that the case, but today's *curiousity* look-up of this title wasn't at all wasted.

It was announced this morning that the a film adaptation of Wilbur Smith’s novel Those In Peril is being developed by British production company ReelArt Media, scheduled for an eventual 2014 release, to coincide with Smith’s 50th anniversary as a novelist.

Not being familiar with the book nor Wilbur Smith, I looked both up to learn that, first, the novel tackles the "African piracy thing" as it's broadly come to be known in some circles, and as you'd expect, tells the tale from a white European's POV. Second, after digging on Wilbur Smith, I further learned that he was actually born in the southern African country, Zambia (what was called Rhodesia back in his youth), and his writings are set primarily within the African continent, although he lives in London currently, but claims "Africa" as his home.

I read that Those In Peril is one of his weakest works (published last year), and I also read that there's been criticism of his work as showing a certain bias - with some critics of Smith arguing that his novels "often contain sexist and racist assumptions" and that they may indeed have a political agenda.

Humph!

I haven't read any of his novels, so I can't comment on them, although reading the synopsis for Those In Peril didn't exactly sway me positively; to wit:

Hazel Bannock is the heir to the Bannock Oil Corp, one of the major oil producers with global reach. While cruising in the Indian Ocean, Hazel's private yacht is hijacked by African pirates. Hazel is not on board at the time, but her nineteen year old daughter, Cayla, is kidnapped and held to ransom. The pirates demand a crippling twenty billion dollar ransom for her release. Complicated political and diplomatic considerations render the civilized major powers incapable of intervening. When Hazel is given evidence of the horrific torture which Cayla is being subjected to by the African Pirates, she calls on Hector Cross to help her rescue her daughter. Hector is the owner and operator of Cross Bow Security, the company which is contracted to Bannock Oil to provide all their security. He is a formidable fighting man. Between them, Hazel and Hector are determined to take the law into their own hands.

I'm sure you can guess what my concerns here would be, after reading this synopsis. Even this sentence alone makes me cringe: "Complicated political and diplomatic considerations render the CIVILIZED major powers..." Civilized in contrast to the "uncivilized" Africans I'm assuming, who've hijacked and horrifically tortured Hazel Bannock's 19-year old daughter; and in comes Hector Cross the knight in shining armor, to the rescue! And I'm sure those damned uncivilized African pirates will pay dearly!

I've already, and repeatedly expressed those concerns when all those "Somali pirate" movies were announced, when Somali pirate stories were seemingly all the rage 2 - 3 years ago, in what I thought would likely be the beginning of a deluge of pirate movies, all fashioned after the recent stories the media fell in love with, but failed to properly vet.

Although, thus far, none of those films has been realized yet.

Let's see... there was Samuel L Jackson's production company (Uppity Films) securing the life rights of Andrew Mwangura, a negotiator between pirates and the owners of vessels hijacked off the coast of Africa, with Jackson, naturally, set to play the starring role; then there was Columbia Pictures' acquisition of the life story rights of Richard Phillips - the captain of one of the ships captured by Somalis Maersk Alabama) and later rescued by the U.S. Navy - with the aim to develop a feature film based on that story, and Tom Hanksattached to star; and then there was the adaptation of author Elmore Leonard's 44th, titled Djibouti - a fictitious tale centering on the pairing of a young, white female award-winning documentary filmmaker and "a studly 6-foot-6-inch black African leading man who, at 72, has lost none of his appeal to pretty young women," as they set sail into the Indian Ocean to make a movie that presents a sympathetic view of the African pirates operating on the east coast of the continent. Morgan Freeman and Sandra Bullock were reportedly being sought to star.

There were likely others I'm forgetting right now.

Anyway... my main concern with all those Hollywood productions is that their research teams paint for the audience the full picture of the so-called piracy of the *Africans*, giving equal weight to all sides of the story, rather than focus on the ostensible heroics of one, while surpressing the harsh, incriminating truths about the other. One of my recommendations was that they start by reading this article by Johann Hari of The Independent in the UK: You Are Being Lied To About Pirates. I'd encourage you all to read it as well, if you haven't already.

These dominating narrow portrayals of Africans as either the starving, helpless, hapless victims, or as post-colonial *savages,* have grown trite and tiresome, while failing to delve into the full complexities beneath the 2-dimensional surfaces we are often bombarded with.

And nothing about what I've read thus far about the author and this particular novel being adapted, is encouraging.

I still haven't seen Cutter Hodierne's Sundance 2012 award-winning short film Fishing Without Nets, which is said to tell the Somali pirates story from the perspective of the pirates themselves; trusted sources who've seen it say it's very good, and, as we've reported, Cutter is prepping to turn the short into a feature film this year. So I hope to see the short soon enough.

Directed by 24-year-old LA-based filmmaker Cutter Hodierne, who's past experience, since high school, includes music/concert videos (most recently working with rock group U2), commercials and several shorts.

But back to Those In Peril... Reelart Media's plans are to turn the star of the novel - the character named Hector Cross - into a franchise of filmes; "a 21st century equivalent to Fleming’s Bond, Ludlums’s Bourne or Clancy’s Jack Ryan. A potential we intend to realise,” the production company stated in a press release.

I've ordered a copy of the book to read for myself.

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4 Comments

  • Wrong country | April 23, 2013 4:48 AMReply

    Zimbabwe not Zambia

  • Larry | April 2, 2012 1:19 AMReply

    The book is riddled with inaccuracies, some of which are very easy to notice. For example, Iran has actually been leading the anti piracy campaign in the region. In the book however the pirates have close ties with the country.
    I suppose what with the prospect of war with Iran increasingly becoming a reality the establishment needs this sort of propaganda to convince the public that it's a necessary course of action, and who better for the job than a world-class author.

  • excentricyoruba | March 30, 2012 8:54 AMReply

    As someone who used to be a fan of Wilbur Smith when I was younger and did not know any better, I can confirm that the only "Africa", Smith loves and enjoys portraying is the Africa where whites (and sometimes Arabs) taken front and centre stage while the "uncivilised" Africans stay in the background lusting after white women and generally acting like fools to please their white overlords.

    It's only white men with colonial fantasies who would write a book set in Africa with little or no main African characters.

  • T'challa | March 29, 2012 2:25 PMReply

    I know the Somali "piracy" started as a reaction to foreign companies & nationals illegally dumping toxic waste in the waters off the Somali coast, as well as interfering with the local fishing industries. Somalia has been in a civil war since 1991, and there is no effective government, no navy or coast guard to protect their territorial waters or their citizens. No doubt criminal elements have infiltrated this "movement", but they do what they have to do to survive.

    To the point, all we can do is spread the word to avoid spending money on such films. The "White hero, Black savage" type films will keep being made as long as they are making $$

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