EXCLUSIVE: French star Jamel Debbouze has come on-board the feature film adaptation of Amin Maalouf’s seminal novel Leo The African. Debbouze, who has been one of France’s biggest stars for well over a decade, will play the title role of Hasan Al-Wazzan, or Leon Africanus, the 16th century traveler and writer. Based on a true story, the book follows Hassan’s childhood in Fez, Morocco, having fled the Spanish Inquisition, through his many journeys as a merchant. Along the way, he encounters, pirates, slave girls and princesses, witnessing a world in flux. In the book, Hasan undergoes his own multi-faith journey, performing his hajj to Mecca, then converting to Christianity, only to return to the Muslim faith in later life. The epic story journeys through the fall of Granada, the Ottoman conquest of Egypt and Renaissance Rome under the Medicis. 

Debbouze has been a longtime admirer of the book, even naming his son Leon. One legend has it that Shakespeare modeled his Othello on the real-life Hasan Al-Wazzan. The film is being produced by Symply Entertainment Beirut and Paris-based 3B Productions as an official Lebanese-French co-production. Ron Senkowski, Jean Brehat, Samira Kawas and Rachid Bouchareb are on-board as producers with Amin Maalouf and Michael Penniman serving as exec producers. 

The producers are now out to find a director.  

Leo the African is like Forrest Gump but set in the early 1500,” Symply CEO Ron Senkowski told Deadline. “Leo is portrayed in such a way that he is at the center of every headline event that marks the history of the region.”