Gladiator screenwriter to pen biopic of Sufi mystic Rumi

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(RNS) The Oscar-winning scriptwriter behind “Gladiator” wants to challenge stereotypes of Muslims in a new movie about the life of a revered 13th-century poet.

David Franzoni, whose script helped clinch the best-picture Academy Award for “Gladiator” in 2001, is embarking on a new project charting the life of beloved poet, scholar and Sufi mystic Jalaluddin al-Rumi.

Describing Rumi as akin to Shakespeare, Franzoni said the movie will challenge the way Western cinema approaches Muslim characters.

“There are a lot of reasons we’re making a product like this right now,” Franzoni told The Guardian. “I think it’s a world that needs to be spoken to; Rumi is hugely popular in the United States. I think it gives him a face and a story.”

Born in present-day Afghanistan in the early 13th century, Rumi fled the Mongol invasion along with his family and traveled extensively through the Middle East before settling in Turkey. The poet’s work continues to have enduring popularity globally and has been translated into multiple languages.

In bringing his life to the silver screen, Franzoni and producer Stephen Joel Brown said they are hoping to line up an A-list cast. Leonardo DiCaprio, who won his first Oscar in February, has been named as their favorite to take on the role of Rumi.

“This is the level of casting that we’re talking about,” Brown told The Guardian.

The intention to choose a white Hollywood actor to play the Persian poet has, however, prompted criticism. Twitter users adopted the hashtag #RumiWasntWhite to air their displeasure, while one joked “I’m not white” was a Rumi proverb.

(Rosie Scammell is an RNS correspondent based in Rome) 

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