Back in August 2017, it was announced that Joe and Anthony Russo – who hadn’t yet directed the highest grossing film of all time, Avengers: Endgame – had acquired the rights to Mohsin Hamid‘s bestselling novel Exit West. A few months later, Barack Obama included the book on his year-end list of the best books he read. Years later, and they’re all in talks to collaborate on an adaptation of the novel.
Per Collider, the Russos are developing an adaptation alongside Barack and Michelle Obama‘s Higher Ground Productions for Netflix, and have secured director Yann Demange to helm the project with Riz Ahmed attached to star.
The book tackles the global refugee crisis and takes place in an unidentified country in the Middle East, where young Saeed and Nadia flee their home after Saeed’s mother is killed by a stray bullet stemming from violent clashes between guerrillas and the local government. The couple joins other migrants attempting to travel to safer havens via carefully guarded doors.
Through one door, they wind up in a crowded camp on the Greek Island of Mykonos. Through another, they secure a private room in an abandoned London mansion populated mostly by displaced Nigerians. And a third door takes them to California’s Marin County. In each location, their relationship is tested as they struggle to find food, adequate shelter and a sense of belonging among emigrant communities.
The allegorical tale shows the contrast between the migrants’ tenuous daily reality and that of the privileged native population who’d prefer that they disappear. Hamid is the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was adapted into a 2012 film that coincidentally also starred Ahmed.
The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum had originally signed a first-look deal with the Russos to direct the project, before unknown reasons led to Demange replacing him. Demange has directed the troubles drama ’71 and the recent drug drama White Boy Rick. Ahmed had a Special Thanks credit on that film, so the two are clearly already familiar with one another.
The Obama’s Higher Ground Productions has already found success, having produced the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory as well as another acclaimed doc, Crip Camp, which opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The company is also developing other projects, including a Frederick Douglass series and a scripted anthology based on The New York Times’ obituary column, Overlooked.
None of the respective parties have commented on this news yet, but if this does move forward, it should be a highly-anticipated, much talked about project.