Salma Hayek’s production of the animated film The Prophet is bringing Middle Eastern poetry to Western audiences at last. The film is based on a collection of poems by the same name, written by Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran.
Coming on the heels of recent orientalist depictions of the Middle East in best-selling movies like American Sniper and Argo, Hayek’s film turns the spotlight on a book that has long been the source of pride for many in the region.
Originally published in 1923, Gibran’s The Prophet has never been out of print and has been translated into over forty languages. The collection of twenty-six poems is focused on a man named Almustafa, who is about to board a ship that will carry him home after twelve years of being away. On the way to the ship, he is stopped by a group of people, with whom he discusses topics, such as love, joy, sorrow, and death.
Despite his popularity, Gibran initially received critical reception in the West, where his works were seen as too simplistic. “In the West, [Gibran] was not added to the canon of English literature,” Professor Juan Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan and translator of several of Gibran’s Arabic works, told the BBC. “Even though his major works were in English after 1918, and though he is one of [the] bestselling poets in American history, he was disdained by English professors.”
The Middle East has long had a rich poetic history, and given birth to notable poets such as Mahmoud Darwish, Hafez, Nâzım Hikmet, Omar Khayyam, Al-Mutanabbi, Nezami, Nizar Qabbani, and Rumi, among many others. Nonetheless, no poet has been honored in a mainstream Western film the way Gibran has by Hayek’s production and its all-star cast and crew.
The film is written and directed by Roger Allers, who was responsible for Disney’s “The Lion King,” and stars Salma Hayek, Liam Neeson, and Quvenzhané Wallis. It also includes the vocal talents of John Krasinski, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina, and John Rhys-Davies and music from Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, and Yo-Yo Ma.
The Prophet will be released in U.S. theaters on August 7.