“A Prophet,” the series adaptation of Jacques Audiard’s 2009 film, will be set in today’s France, in Marseille, with a young, Black protagonist. The original movie, which won Cannes’ grand jury prize and a BAFTA Award, and earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, starred Tahar Rahim (“The Mauritanian”) as a 19-year-old French-Algerian sentenced to six years in prison who becomes involved with an organized crime ring in Paris.
The French-language series will reunite the Cesar-winning team behind the movie, notably its producer Marco Cherqui, and the screenwriters, Abdel Raouf Dafri — who made his directorial debut last year with “The Breitner Commando” — and Nicolas Peufaillit. Cherqui, producer at Paris-based CPB Films, and Sebastien Janin, former Apple exec and co-founder of Media Musketeers, spoke to Variety about how “A Prophet” was being adapted to contemporary France. The show is expected to start production in France during the second half of 2021. Besides “A Prophet,” Cherqui’s resume includes Pierre Laffargue’s crime thriller “Black,” and more recently, Rebecca Zlotowski and Sabri Louatah’s “Les Sauvages” — a daring and poignant political saga with a predominantly French-Arab cast, a first in France. Media Musketeers was co-created by Janin and fellow former Apple exec Andy Docherty and ex-Warner Bros. exec Chris Law in 2015.
What made you want to revisit “A Prophet” 12 years later?
Marco Cherqui: Through the years, I’ve been stunned to see how “A Prophet” has become a cult movie, not only in France, but also overseas. It was a big deal when the director of “Black Panther,” Ryan Coogler, said “A Prophet” was one of the films that had influenced him the most. I think it is the film’s hero, Malik — played by Tahar Rahim — who struck a chord so powerfully because he’s a French-Arab underdog who thrives thanks to his intelligence, and not because he’s a “savage.” Beyond that, it’s a movie that celebrated on-screen diversity and led to the emerging of new talents, Rahim, of course, but also Reda Kateb, Leïla Bekhti, and many more.
Why did you decide to adapt it into a TV series rather than just do a movie sequel?
Cherqui: I initially tried to develop a movie sequel, I even imagined that we could do a second and third film, but it didn’t work out. It was difficult to get everyone on the same page. Then I realized that a TV series would be the perfect medium to revisit this story today because it would allow us to diversify the perspectives, expand the storylines of secondary characters and develop their respective journeys. Getting on board Abdel Raouf Dafri, who conceived “A Prophet,” along with his co-writer Nicolas Peufaillit, was crucial to come up with a modern and relevant take on the movie’s plot and themes, rather than a remake. Another necessary step was to partner up with Media Musketeers to give us the means to develop this series independently.
Sebastien, what attracted Media Musketeers to “Un Prophete”?
Sebastien Janin: We were immediately drawn to this project, which is completely in line with the type of content we’re interested in co-producing and co-financing. It’s a smart, powerful and universal story that’s very grounded in French society today, show its multiculturalism, and we know it will resonate outside of France as the movie did. And like “Pulse,” a survival thriller which recently started shooting in South Africa, “Un Prophete” will have a multi-ethnic cast. Both “Un Prophete” and “Pulse” are internationally driven series.
Marco, what do you have in mind in terms of the cast?
Cherqui: “A Prophet” was a tale about an underdog, an invisible man for whom the social ladder doesn’t exist. 15 years ago, that character had to be an Arab of North African origins (who represent a larger chunk of visible minorities in France). Today, the one who is the most marginalized, who is the most under-estimated in our society, who doesn’t get anywhere near the social ladder, is a Black man. In our series, he will be a young French-Comorian.
Where will the series be set?
Cherqui: While the movie is set in Paris and mostly takes place in a prison, the series unfolds in Marseille and revolves around a mafia clan controlled by a fairly bourgeois segment of the local French-Arab community. A crooked real estate deal goes south, a building collapses and a war between two communities, the French-Arab and the French-Comorian, erupts. “A Prophet” showed the racism between the Corsicans and the Arabs, and the series will show a face-off between the Arabs and the Comorians.
In the film, the character of Malik enters prison as a petty thief and comes out as a professional killer. Will the series’ hero follow the same path?
Cherqui: Yes, Malik is an ordinary thug who doesn’t identify as a French-Arab, has no idea what it means and is quite naive about life. It’s only when he lands in prison and is confronted with others who address him as an Arab, that he develops an awareness. In the show, the young hero is also Muslim, but like Malik, he doesn’t have any cultural or religious notions of what it means. The only thing that drives him and allows him to thrive is his survival instinct. He will do whatever it takes to save his life.
Do you have a broadcaster or a platform attached to the project?
Cherqui: Partnering with Media Musketeers gives us the possibility to stay fully independent during this development phase, so we will be looking to get a broadcaster or a platform at a later stage.
Janin: Our goal is to create three seasons of 10 episodes each with a director who will give his or her imprint on the series. We’re also interested in tapping into the franchise potential of “A Prophet” with a great original score and possibly a podcast.