Actress, activist, and director Angelina Jolie has signed on to direct her next film. Titled Africa, the biopic will dramatize the late 1980s efforts by paleo-archaelogist, conservationist, and politician Richard Leakey to save the African elephant population from Kenyan ivory poachers. The son of legendary couple, anthropologist Louis Leakey and archaeologist Mary Leakey, Richard has proven himself to be a legend in his own right. He was instrumental in getting a world ban on ivory trade pushed through in 1989. When he was appointed chairman of Kenya Wildlife Service in 1990, he quickly instated anti-poaching units that were well-armed and authorized to shoot poachers on sight. Leakey’s labors immediately resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of elephants killed by poachers.
Unfortunately, another tidal wave of elephant poaching has afflicted Africa. Much of it is due to the rapid rise of the middle class in Vietnam and China; the demand for ornamental ivory used in items such as hairpins, pendants, chopsticks, and other trinkets has been ratcheted up to unsustainable levels. The problem so dire that conservationists predict that all African elephants will become extinct by 2020. Incredibly, Richard Leakey is on the case to save Africa’s elephants once again, but that is another story, one that should also be told. Africa’s screenwriter, Eric Roth, called Richard Leakey “the most charismatic man I’ve ever met.”
Perhaps Jolie’s film celebrating a conservationist will bring some collateral attention to another African animal in grave danger, the rhinoceros. It may go the same way as the elephant. Killed in large part for bogus claims made about the medicinal value of their horn, one species, the African western black rhino, has already been declared extinct. In 2013, only two years after that declaration, African rhino poaching saw a 50% increase over the previous 12 months. Adding further to the list of tragedies created by the slaughter of elephants and rhinos, the U.S. International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) said that ivory and rhino horn are becoming increasingly popular as “a source of income for some of Africa’s most notorious armed groups.” Terrorist organizations, said the ICCF, are being funded by ivory and rhino horn poaching.
Jolie’s newest directing gig is a logical choice, and Jolie said in a statement about the project that she has felt a lifelong “deep connection to Africa and its culture” and was moved by the beauty of the script. Eric Roth, who penned Africa, has won 15—and been nominated for an additional 35—screenwriting awards. The visuals should not be too shabby either as Africa’s cinematographer will be Roger Deakins, who currently has 85 awards and 71 nominations under his belt for cinematography.
Jolie’s statement regarding her fourth directorial debut added that Leaky emerged, from his “violent conflict with elephant poachers,” with “a deeper understanding of man’s footprint and a profound sense of responsibility for the world around him.” Jolie can relate. She has won many awards for her acting, but she has won even more for her humanitarian work. In choosing to bring her considerable talent and philanthropic vision to Africa, it may be in order to amend her list of descriptors to include conservationist.
By Donna Westlund