Sacha Baron Cohen to star in film of Saddam novel

Jan 21, 2011
Jonathan Harwood

Jewish comedian takes on role of Iraqi leader in film version of one of Saddam’s novels

After taking on the roles of Ali G, Borat and Bruno, comic Sacha Baron Cohen is now gearing up to tackle his biggest challenge yet - playing Saddam Hussein in an adaptation of one of the former Iraqi dictator's many novels.
The Jewish comedian is to star in a big-screen version of Zabiba and the King, touted as "the heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed". The movie has been given the working title The Dictator and is being billed as a comedy.
It is set in 7th or 8th century Iraq, and tells the story of a beautiful maiden who is abused by her cruel husband but who develops a deep and platonic love for the ruler of the country - King Arab, who hails from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and is clearly based on the dictator.
The story is widely regarded as a somewhat unsubtle allegory. Zabiba represents the Iraqi people, her monstrous husband the USA and the wise king, who learns about Islam from Zabiba, is Saddam.
The Hollywood adaptation of the book will be directed by Larry Charles and produced by Scott Rudin. Quite how faithful they will be to the Saddam text remains to be seen, but audiences will get the chance to find out when the film comes out in May 2012.
If the film is a success then there could be opportunities for Baron Cohen to reprise his role as Saddam's alter ego in adaptations of his other works. They are The Fortified Castle, another allegorical historical romp, Men and the City, about the rise of the Ba'ath Party, and Begone, Demons, which tells the story of a Zionist-Christian attempt to destroy the Arab world.
At present Zabiba and the King is the only one of his novels available on Amazon. It was, unsurprisingly, a bestseller in Iraq and Baron Cohen will not be the first person to take on the role of King Arab. The story was turned into a musical in Baghdad before the invasion.

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