Will Smith wants to be The Last Pharaoh.

Will Smith wants to be The Last Pharaoh. March 23, 2008

Sun Media says Will Smith is looking to add a sword-and-sandals epic to his resumé, and he’s got his eyes set on ancient Egypt:

Enter Taharqa, the last Pharaoh of the 25th or Nubian Dynasty (the one in which blacks of Ethiopian descent ran Egypt).

Carl Franklin (Devil In A Blue Dress) has already banged out a script called The Last Pharaoh, full of Ethiopians battling Assyrians for the throne of Amun-Ra. Now it’s being polished by Chris Hauty (Never Back Down), so look for some mixed martial arts to excite the masses.

“It’s an open writing assignment from Will’s company. It’s something he’s taken a big interest in,” says Hauty, who’s had a few projects fall apart in recent years (including an animated version of Moby Dick that Dreamworks started working on and dropped because it decided to get out of traditional animation after Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron gave up the ghost at the box office).

Despite what the article says, it would seem Taharqa was not the last Pharaoh of his dynasty; Wikipedia indicates that Taharqa, who reigned 690-664 BC, was succeded by his nephew Tantamani, who reigned 664-656 BC. However, both Taharqa and his nephew had to contend with a rival dynasty that began with Necho I, who was “installed” by the Assyrians around 670 BC; and it was this rival dynasty that eventually booted Taharqa’s nephew off the throne. And of course, as the article itself states, the last Pharaoh of any dynasty was Cleopatra, who died several centuries later in 30 BC. But what can one say, filmmakers seem to like titles with the word “last” in them.

Given the title, it seems a safe bet this film will focus on the end of Taharqa’s reign, rather than the beginning. But if we step back a few decades, to Taharqa’s early years, it turns out there is an interesting connection between Taharqa and the biblical history of this period. Scholars, it seems, have said that Taharqa may be the same person who is referred to in II Kings 19 and Isaiah 37 as “Tirhakah, the Cushite king of Egypt” — a figure who is mentioned simply because he was “marching out to fight” against the Assyrian king Sennacherib while Sennacherib was laying siege to Jerusalem in 701 BC.

There is one slight problem with making a simple equation between Taharqa and Tirhakah, and that is the fact that Taharqa was not actually king of Egypt until about a decade after the incident described in the Bible. However, it seems that Taharqa’s brother Shebitku was the Pharaoh at this time, and Taharqa did lead the army in his name, so it is possible that the author of this passage — which also describes the death of Sennacherib in 681 BC — was writing at a later date and conflating Taharqa’s military leadership with his later reign as Pharaoh.

One other interesting detail: Sennacherib did a lot of damage in Judea; he himself claimed to have destroyed 46 cities, and he decorated his palace with stone panels depicting the destruction of Lachish, stone panels that are now on display at the British Museum in London. But he failed to take Jerusalem itself, and the biblical accounts say he failed because “the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp.” The Greek historian Herodotus, who lived a few centuries later, tells a similar story about Sennacherib being defeated by divine intervention — but the story he tells takes place during a battle against the Egyptians. However, Herodotus says the Pharaoh at that time was named Sethos, so his information would seem to be a bit garbled.

Whether any of this data will make its way into the Will Smith movie, who knows, but it does give the story some extra context, and I, for one, am curious to see whether the film will deal with it — and, if so, how. Will the Greek and Hebrew stories be treated as two separate incidents? As two different facets or versions of the same basic incident? Or will either or both of the stories be ignored altogether?

One final thought: In the past, people have debated the merits of black actors playing ancient figures like Jesus and Hannibal whose ethnic make-up was either decidedly different or a matter of some controversy — but it seems a safe bet that no one will complain about historical inaccuracy if Will Smith plays a Nubian king.

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  • Will Smith would make a great Nubian king and I for one will not let skin color on screen or off screen make up my mind as to whether people with black skin is good enough to live in this world let alone star in films.

  • No one is saying that black people cannot star in films, let alone that they are not good enough to live in this world. (Where did you get that idea?) The question is whether, and to what degree, ethnicity matters when casting a role. Remember the controversy when Chinese actresses were hired to play the Japanese protagonists in Memoirs of a Geisha? Presumably it would have been even more controversial to cast white or black actresses in those parts. That sort of thing.

  • RC

    woa, what an interesting project…thanks for all the details.

    it’ll be intersting to see what happens here.

  • Anonymous

    I just want to add a correction, the article says “(the one in which blacks of Ethiopian descent ran Egypt).” the correct is of Sudanese descent.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a bit worried about the way the article (and maybe the script) was written. I’m a Nubian, the ruins of the ancient Kingdom of Kush are a few miles away from my village and I’m Sudanese. It is true that Taharqa was the ruller of Egypt, but that does not make him an Egyptian or an Ethiopian – He is a Sudanese. Why can’t you accept that Sudanese (and other nations within your ‘axis of evil’) cannot be genuine heroes? Isn’t that racism?

  • Keith Morgan

    Well, although I say that it’s about darn time a movie about the Nubian/Assyrian conflict is in the works, I wouldn’t say that Will Smith is the absolute best choice for the role. I’ve always loved Smith’s films, but I feel that they should have gone with a darker skinned black man like maybe Djimon Hounsou (is that spelled right?!)from “Amistad”, or maybe even Morris Chestnut. Sure, the star power wouldn’t be there like if Smith were to do it, but this film IS about a NUBIAN pharaoh, and it would seem only right to cast the main star as such. This is just my opinion though, and Will Smith is a great actor so just maybe he CAN pull it off! I guess we’ll see.

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree with the last comment, however for accuracy purposes I think they should get someone of actual sudanese decent to play the role (maybe even speak the languages of the time just like in “The Passion”). Just a suggestion.

  • I think this is wonderful. My friend and I were discussing this project recently and we look forward to seeing Will Smith in this role. I think he will pull it off, but my friend breathes anything Egypt so I will have to wait and see if she agrees with me.


  • Anonymous

    will smith, although an excellent actor, is not suited for this role. It would be extreme irresponsible on my part to endorse this. The Great Pharoah Tarharka should be accurately depicted if, for no other reason, then to empower nubuns who look like him. Now is the time for African Americans to identify and embrace their lineage. It would be empowering for any to know that they’re descendants of Kings and not just slaves. An accurate portrayal would encourage many to not just rely on what’s told, but would inspire them to get scientific proof of their origins this becoming empowered to become Kingd and Queens again. Will Smith was SELECTED for this role because he represents an image. As long as we continue to condone this, that image will continue to enslave YOU.

  • Anonymous

    there are also a lot of kushites in ethiopia.the’re saying “blacks of ethiopian descent” because scholars recently linked an ethiopian king Tirakah who lived around the same time.The Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt (roughly 743-656 BC) was actually an Ethiopian dynasty. During this period Ethiopia ruled Egypt. Their most accomplished pharaoh during this time was Taharqa who wore two snakes on his crown signifying sovereignty of both Egypt and Ethiopia.ethiopians also used to rule half of sudan including meroe,south arabia,and also parts of saudiarabia.

  • Anonymous

    they should have a darker skin actor play the role of the nubian king. but i dont have a problem with will smith i hope it is a good movie it is about time Holllywood tells the truth about black history and stop white washing everything. and pepole should also understand that Taharqa was not the only black Pharoah of Kemet.which means land of the blacks. the orginal name for what the greeks called Egypt. matter of fact Egypt was a all black nation for thousands of years untill foreigners invaded and took over which was much later in history when egypt was already over. hint the white race. history begins with black people, the orginal jews are black and any nation that was around in the anicent world. if you think im lieing google it. Black people we must reclaim our history. Spike lee you should be ashamed of yourself you will do a movie about kobe bryant, and not about Anicent black history which will do a great justice to our race. but instead you choose to make a movie about playing basket ball.

    SUTEK. Anicent KEMETIAN meaning black power.

  • Anonymous

    when is it due to come out ?

  • Anonymous

    For those of you who are wondering why it's labelled The last Pharaoh.
    It's because Taharqa was the last native Pharaoh , although they say the last native Pharaoh is Nectanebo II you have to consider the invasion that assyrians made and that some of those pharaoh who came after Taharqa might have not been full blooded natives.