EXCLUSIVE: Zoe Saldana will star in Sabaya, a fact-based thriller that Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale) will direct based on a William Monahan script about the unlikely circumstances that made possible a 2015 U.S. Special Forces raid that killed a top ISIS leader and started the downfall of the radical Islamic State.
Saldana will play a female CIA officer who befriended a recently escaped ISIS sex slave, or “sabaya.” The 15-year-old Yazidi girl can neither read nor write, but as she works with the teen to piece together her harrowing odyssey out of Syria, the CIA officer finds that the abused girl has pinpointed the nerve center of the Caliphate. The subsequent dramatic raid on the site of the young woman’s captivity results in the capture of intelligence that would spell the end of the Islamic State.
The story comes from Spycraft Entertainment, a production company headed by Grant Verstandig and former CIA officers John Sipher and Jerry O’Shea, who work with retired members of the intelligence community to create and develop content based on their true stories. Michael Ovitz was a key man here. The former superagent was given a 20-page treatment from Verstandig. Ovitz took that to his former colleague Rick Yorn, who runs LBI Entertainment. Ovitz, Yorn, and LBI colleague Chris Donnelly engaged Saldana, Morano and Monahan, latter of whom won the Oscar for scripting The Departed.
“It is an honor to be a part of the telling of this story,” said Saldana. “This young woman’s journey is one for the books, and I am beyond grateful we will get to immortalize it on the silver screen.”
Morano, who won Emmys and DGA Awards for The Handmaid’s Tale, has the Blake Lively action thriller The Rhythm Section in post-production. She called Sabaya “a larger than life epic but it’s also an intimate, raw portrait of a young girl’s determination and the bond that forms between these two women. I’ve not seen such a mind-blowing adventure that is simultaneously so emotionally transcendent, from these perspectives before. I’m thrilled to be telling this powerful story with the incredible Bill and Zoe.”
Monahan called Sabaya “the best material for an emotionally powerful theatrical war film that I have seen in ages and I don’t say that lightly. It’s a story of doing the right thing against desperate odds, and if you think about it, no film that’s any good is about anything else whatsoever. Sabaya is what the big screen is for, and this dream team we’ve got is all out for [it].”
Deal was packaged by Ovitz and LBI. CAA and LBI rep Saldana, Morano and Monahan.