Ben Affleck to direct historical drama ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’

BTS still from 'Argo' by Warner Bros. Pictures via MoviestillsDB

Given this past meme-saturated decade, it’s almost easy to forget that Ben Affleck was once an incredibly successful — and Best Picture-winning! — director, who made at least one all-time dad movie classic in The Town. In fact, our relatives still bring that movie up every Thanksgiving when talk around the table turns to our living in Boston, so make of that what you will. Anyway, Affleck hasn’t directed a feature since 2017’s Live By Night, a Dennis Lehane adaptation that flopped hard at the box office and squandered much of the goodwill that the man had accrued. A brief flirtation with directing and starring in The Batman wasted some time, but the filmmaker’s really been on hiatus since then. However, Deadline is reporting that this is soon going to change: Affleck will direct King Leopold’s Ghost, about the plunder of the Congo under King Leopold of Belgium, with Apocalypto scribe Farhad Safina penning the screenplay. This is, to be sure, an unexpected pivot from small-time crime dramas for the director, but he does have our curiosity.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this terrible period in Congolese history, here’s some background information via the Deadline article:

“Safinia is basing his script on the Adam Hochschild book: ‘King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa.’ The film covers an atrocious piece of history that is every bit as bad as the subtitle infers. Set at a moment when European countries were racing to find ways to carve up the natural resources of Africa, Leopold became the world’s richest man with billions stashed in secret bank accounts by gaining private ownership of the Congo Free State, and inserted a mercenary army to cruelly plunder rubber and ivory. He forced the locals to harvest it. Those who refused were dismembered or worse, and the book estimates that as many as 8 million were killed in this ruthless pursuit. The book was previously the basis for a 2006 documentary.”


And here’s some more specific information about the film’s plot:

“This film is an account of the Congolese who defied Leopold II and fought back. Their heroic plight sparked a daring and unlikely alliance between a black American missionary, an English investigative journalist and an Irish spy that shone a light on the horrors and gave birth to the first human rights movement. Once photographs were made public, Leopold’s charade of spreading Christianity in the heart of darkness was exposed as a greedy ruse, and the king was assailed by the likes of Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Joseph Conrad, whose disgust with Leopold’s ‘civilizing mission’ led to writing ‘Heart of Darkness.'”

Deadline also reports that this is one of a number of projects on Affleck’s directorial plate, including one about the very, very wild McDonald’s Monopoly Swindle (please read that Daily Beast article, it will make your day) which he might also direct. Still, this all sounds very interesting, and even though we can name a few other (less-white) filmmakers that we wish would get the studio financing in order to make a movie like this one, Affleck has the fundamental chops necessary in order to make this a very compelling feature. We’ll keep you updated with more news about King Leopold’s Ghost as it breaks, but why not watch To the Wonder tonight and remember that Affleck can act, huh?