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Up Next For Barkhad Abdi: Starring In Project Based On Life Of South African Marathon Legend Willie Mtolo

by Tambay A. Obenson
March 3, 2014 10:50 AM
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Barkhad Abdi

Fresh off his Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor, for his performance in a film that was his feature acting debut, Barkhad Abdi has booked what will be his follow-up role in a historical drama centered on famous South African marathon runner, Willie Mtolo.

Titled The Place That Hits The Sun, the project hails from producer Noel Pearson (My Left Foot), with Jim O'Hanlon attached to direct.

Abdi will play Mtolo, the South African running legend who was born in 1964, and has participated in more than 23 marathons in South Africa and around the world. He has won 9 marathons, including the J.S.E. Marathon (1985), S.A. Marathon (1988), Ford Marathon (1988), Two Oceans Marathon (1990), Peninsula Marathon (1990), Rotterdam Marathon (1993), Kosice Marathon (1998), Macau Marathon (2000) and Hong Kong Marathon (2001). 

Mtolo currently organizes charity runs for peace in the townships and has opened his own athletic academy called Willie Athletic Club.

Abdi will play Mtolo, in a project that will center on the unlikely friendship that "transcended apartheid" between Mtolo and a white bar owner named Ray de Vries. Of course - we certainly can't have a film about Mtolo without the rote inclusion of his relation to some specific white man - not-so unlike several past films on the lives of public figures of African descent (see the many films about Nelson Mandela, for example).

I did wonder what Abdi's future as an actor held, expecting that his opportunities would be limited. But, I suppose, despite my reservations about this particular project, a starring role, playing a famous personality is a promising step.

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  • jamie | March 5, 2014 5:50 PMReply

    I liked him in CP....hes talented....BUTTTTT he needs to get his teeth fixed....that's what is limiting his roles.....sorry but hes got yellow ugly teeth......I think his teeth will hold him back from getting awesome roles and or be sterotyped....

  • Libby | March 4, 2014 1:05 AMReply

    I'm glad and hope this works out. He was great in Captain Phillips--can't wait to watch him grow as an actor.

  • Boykin | February 27, 2014 6:39 PMReply

    yes! DO WORK bré!

  • Ariletta | February 26, 2014 12:54 PMReply

    Everyone thought out of all the Oscar nominees this year Barkhad Abdi would get no roles ever again. Nice to see the man is proving all of us wrong with a starring lead role.

  • LL2 | February 27, 2014 12:34 PM

    What is ethnic about Gabby Sidibie's look? She is overweight but that is not an "ethnic" trait.

  • Ariletta | February 26, 2014 3:33 PM

    What Captain Phillips didn't catch fire here? It made $106 Million domestic and $110 Million foreign. Not to mention being nominated for multiple Oscars including a best Oscar for Abdi. Sorry but Mandela wasn't a very good film. It was all over the place messy so didn't do well period. How many Black folks went to see that film instead of Kevin Hart's last two film?

    Who cares if money for Abdi's film is from the U.K.? The makers of Gravity didn't. Maybe the UK is into funding quality films starring actors Black or White with talent. You going to tell me that other Black actors would turn down the lead role in a biopic with full funding? Even Chiwetel Ejifor with his best actor nomination doesn't have a lead film lined up. Viola and Octavia ended up with small supporting parts from the Oscars.

  • cherokee rose | February 26, 2014 2:40 PM

    @Alias said: And neither "Mandela" nor "Captain Philips" caught fire in the U.S. with audiences the way "12 Years" did. And I suspect this film will also play poorly here.

    Huh? Numbers don't lie. Domestically the films have grossed as follows:
    Captain Phillips $106 million
    12YAS $49 million

  • Alias | February 26, 2014 1:35 PM

    I've not heard/read people saying that he wouldn't get any other roles, but admittedly, I, too, wondered, if he might end up being a so-called one hit wonder.

    You cannot ignore the fact that he's in a similar situation as Gabby Sidibie in that his ethnic look (and lack of acting experience) will probably limit the types of roles in which he may find himself being cast. And, on some level, this particular role speaks to that. It's not mentioned in the post, but I assume this movie is originating out of the UK based on the producers/director involved. ...And neither "Mandela" nor "Captain Philips" caught fire in the U.S. with audiences the way "12 Years" did. And I suspect this film will also play poorly here.

    Both of their situations are similar in that it was a perfect storm for them to be cast. Each one called for a very specific type of character that aren't, normally, found in Hollywood. ...Gabby, essentially, continues to be typecast in Hollywood. And if Abdi wants to have a career, he will find himself being typecast as well. Let's not kid ourselves here.

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