The connections between Latin America and the Lebanon are deep. Real deep. Carlos Slim, Demián Bichir, Shakira, John Leguizamo, Mauricio Garcés – all fully or partially descended from Lebanese immigrants who set sail to the great ports of North and South America to escape hardship or seek their fortunes in the New World. Then of course, there’s Salma Hayek, whose paternal grandfather made the trip from Lebanon to the port of Veracruz only to get mixed up with a hot-blooded jarocha and settle down in the muggy, petroleum-rich northern shores of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
We can only assume this heritage – proudly carried on in her first name, which is Arabic for “peace” or “calm” – contributed to her passion for Lebanese-American writer and painter Khalil Gibran’s global literary phenomenon The Prophet. But we’re not talking about “OMG I looove that book”-type of passion. No, we’re talking about producing a multi-million dollar animated feature helmed by the guy who directed the Lion King-type of passion. Yeah, she really loves it.
Now, if you haven’t heard of this book, you need to spend a few hours on Wikipedia updating your your knowledge base. Translated into over 40 languages, it is considered one of the best selling books of all time, and has never been out of print since it was first published in 1923. It was a favorite of Elvis, John Lennon, Johnny Cash, and has become something of a Bible for new-age spiritualists.
The book of spiritually-inclined prose poems follows the meandering discussion of a prophet who awaits the departure of a ship that will bring him back to his home country after 12 years of abroad. Universal themes of marriage, love, friendship, beauty, and religion are all explored with philosophical rigor in separate chapters characterized by their highly poetic style. In Hayek’s animated version, an international crew of directors take on each chapter with Disney phenom Roger Allers holding down the big picture side of things. To boot, the film’s heavyweight cast of voice actors – including Liam Neeson, Alfred Molina, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Hayek herself – should give the project more than a little dramatic heft.
After playing at a handful of little festivals like Cannes and Toronto in 2014, The Prophet had some trouble picking up a distributor, but at long last it seems the feature will make its way to American megaplexes, starting with a limited run in New York and Los Angeles on August 7 before going nationwide.