Coffee table books and novels about Africa with ‘Africa’ in their titles seem to stand a better chance of becoming best sellers, or so I hear. “Out of Africa”, “Nowhere in Africa”, “I Dream of Africa” would seem to suggest so.
By that formula nothing would sell Africa better than a DVD cover featuring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie swathed in amber light in a film simply titled–“Africa”.
The couple was slated to make “Africa, a $110 million biopic about white Kenyan paleontologist turned elephant savior, Richard Leakey.
Brad Pitt was to star as Richard Leakey. Angelina would direct.
“Africa” was Jolie’s passion project, about “a man drawn into the violent conflict with elephant poachers, who emerged with a deeper understanding of man’s footprint and a profound sense of responsibility for the world around him”, she’d said in a statement.
Rampant poaching in the 80s left elephant populations at their lowest. Leakey stepped in as director of the newly formed Kenya Wildlife Service. He began numerous campaigns to save the elephant. His most ambitious was induce a worldwide trade on all trade in ivory – legal and illegal. , Leakey set about finding ways to devalue the substance. Leakey borrowed from Brigit Bardot’s anti- fur campaign shaming women for wearing fur coats., and applied it to trophy hunting and women wearing ivory bangles. The mantra became, ‘Only Elephants Wear Ivory’.
In May 1989 on international television Leakey burned 12 tons of stockpiled ivory at Nairobi National Park.
Around the same time, Leakey had implemented a controversial shoot-to-kill policy against poachers, most of whom were ethnic Somalis.
The policy remains in effect today.
In April 2015, Leakey came back as chair of KWS. A few weeks later he presided over another ivory burn, this time torching 110 tons of ivory estimated to have been worth $105 million.
Kenya banned hunting in the 70s. Despite successful publicity campaigns, some African countries like Tanzania and South Africa still allow elephant hunting. Leakey was stunned to learn that the producers of “Africa” had decided to shoot the film in South Africa.
“I received no indication that a movie with a working title of “Africa”, would be shot in South Africa, and not in Kenya,” he told reporters in 2015.
The 1986 Academy Award-winning film, “Out of Africa”, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, was filmed in Kenya. However, high production costs in Kenya forced filmmakers to make movies in more budget-friendly South Africa.
Jolie had hoped to follow up a relationship drama she directed last year, which starred Pitt and herself, with “Africa”.
But was not meant to be; Jolie filed for divorce from Brad in September 2016, citing ‘irreconcilable differences’.
Categories: Conflict In Context - Field Notes