Netflix is embroiled in controversy as the streaming giant faces backlash in Tunisia over the casting of Denzel Washington as the historic military leader Hannibal in its upcoming blockbuster. Critics argue that the decision could be a ‘historical error,’ with historians still uncertain about Hannibal’s ethnicity over 2,200 years after his reign.
The announcement has led to outrage in Tunisia, sparking debates in the country’s parliament and prompting an online petition urging action against what is perceived as an attempt to distort history. This dispute follows a recent Netflix scandal in Egypt over the docudrama ‘Cleopatra,’ accused of ‘blackwashing’ by casting a black actress as the Macedonian-Greek empress.
Tunisian Member of Parliament Yassine Mami has called for parliamentary intervention, emphasizing the risk of falsifying history and defending Tunisian identity. Tunisian newspaper La Presse has also taken a public stance against Washington’s casting, deeming it a historical error according to Tunisians and observers.
Despite the controversy, Culture Minister Hayet Ketat Guermazi expressed limited control over the situation, citing negotiations to have some scenes shot in Tunisia. Guermazi emphasized the fictional nature of the film and the desire to make Tunisia a platform for foreign films.
Hannibal, born in 247 BC and hailing from Carthage (modern-day Tunis), is considered one of history’s greatest military leaders. Historians remain divided over his skin color due to the complexities of the historical period, with Hannibal being of West Asian Semitic origin.
The casting uproar occurs amid heightened racial tensions in Tunisia, where President Kais Saied has made controversial statements about sub-Saharan migrants. While some find Washington’s selection offensive, others view it as a matter of artistic freedom and hope for Tunisia to become a location for foreign films.
This incident parallels Netflix’s previous casting controversy with the role of Cleopatra, where the streaming service faced criticism for historical inaccuracies and ‘blackwashing.”