Film Pitch: ‘OSIRIS’ Adaptation With Idris Elba
SYNOPSIS: This is a historical take on the Egyptian myth of Osiris, heir of Ra. The legend tells of an ancient feud for the Kingdom between two brothers. Instead of God, this historical version portrays a man who settled along the fertile land of the Nile and built a community. The discovery of crops and agriculture allowed humanity to steer away from its nomadic path. Once Egypt was established others would want this jewel for themselves. Osiris’ younger brother, Set, orchestrates his way to the throne, stopping at nothing.
Think of a Shakespearean tragedy mixed with a sword and sandal adventure. This version of the classical myth would have no Gods, but help demonstrate how these men and women entered history as Gods.
This would be perfect for an HBO mini-series, but this pitch imagines it as a feature film, condensing some elements while leaving it open for expansion. There are so many historical Hollywood blockbuster adventures over the decades. Contemporary adaptations receive controversy for casting White people like happened recently with Ridley Scott’s EXODUS. The Greatest Story Never Told just happens to take place in ancient Egypt with Africans, so the blue-skinned Osiris from ancient Hieroglyphs will not be White-skinned in this version.
I think it would be fantastic to see a GLADIATOR type movie with Idris Elba vs Chiwetel Ejiofor – like this version of OSIRIS.
THE PITCH: Since this is an original take on historical myth, the format will be slightly different. Casting choices will accompany character introductions. In a way, this is like a loose outline on how the story would unfold.
FADE IN: A lion drinks from water. Two men, Osiris (Idris Elba) and Set (Chiwetel Ejiofor) stalk their prey. Traditionally, hunting strengthened their bonds. They talk of the King of the Jungle, making the symbolic parallel more obvious. When Osiris attacks the large lion, Set notices an opportunity to strike. While Osiris holds the snapping jaws of the lion atop him, his younger brother has his arrow cradled. Set struggles with his emotions, should he shoot the beast, or slay his brother and claim the Kingdom of Egypt as his own? Osiris yells out, “Let fly your arrow!” Set closes his eyes, and lets Fate decide.
CUT TO: Guards at the entrance of a modest ancient Egypt. Under light of the moon, they spot a skulking lion – or what appeared to be. Really, it’s the silhouette of a man carrying the hide of a lion slung across his shoulders. It’s Set. For a moment, we wonder if he killed his brother. Then Osiris arrives a step behind, holding his wounds.
The intro sets the stage for a GAME OF THRONES style battle for the throne. There will be massive war set-pieces, alongside behind-the-scenes scheming. A legend is born circa 4000-3000 BCE, spreading across generations. The idea is how the most powerful civilization managed to last so incredibly long. Egypt ruled for 1000s of years as the pinnacle of society in technology, science, medicine, art, philosophy, and politics. The journey shows how the drive to power can be overcome by peace and intellect.
After arrival, Anubis (Corey Hawkins from STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON), son of Set and Nephthys (Lupita Nyong’o from 12 YEARS A SLAVE), tends to the King’s wounds. Osiris and Isis’ (Gugu Mbatha-Raw from BEYOND THE LIGHTS) relationship is further established during this sequence, but further embellished when they make love in the early morning sun of the next day. A bird flies through the window and lands on Isis’ stomach as she sleeps alone. This symbolizes their son’s conception, as Horus is represented by a hawk in mythology.
Set takes claim for slaying the lion king, so Egypt will think he is powerful, even though Osiris fought the beast up close. Rumours spread from a young child who saw the encounter. Set is angered. In an eerie, yet quiet moment, he stares at the lion hide in his chambers, planning his schemes for the throne. His wife, Nephthys, believes something is wrong when she spies on him zoning out, and her suspicions begin.
Adding some more adventure, Isis and Osiris race horses down a dune and through a rocky canyon to a secret oasis. While there, they talk of Egypt, discuss the future and what their home can truly become. They also talk of Osiris’ father, Ra, and how he found Egypt while leading a wandering tribe down the Nile. They decide to reach out to surrounding community’s and spread knowledge of agriculture. They want others to have what they have, but they also want to avoid them coming to take what they have built. They are aware of exploitative strive for power, but believe in peace instead. Osiris sets out for a journey, while Set stays behind and rules in his stead further lingering on how to get Egypt for himself.
Meanwhile, we establish some supporting characters. Khnum (Nate Parker from RED TAILS) is a scout in the desert. We meet him in a cave, painting a soaring hawk on reeds at torchlight. He senses a vibration and exits. Using a makeshift telescope with hollow wood and crystal at the end, he scans the horizon and sees distant pluming over a dune. Riders are coming, launching the 2nd act of this story. For a parallel, we follow the boy who witnessed the earlier lion attack as he chases down a wayward goat. It runs towards the Nile’s edge and is eaten by a crocodile, symbolically foreshadowing the upcoming invader.
Osiris returns, excited about what he’s shared and what he’s traded (including knowledge). At the tail-end of his elation, Khnum arrives and warns of the coming raiders. A small council plans how to protect the Sun Boat. They think this enemy that comes for Egypt wants a way to travel the water beyond (the ocean), which is an impossible journey to these ancient people, but a dream for what’s possible in the future.
The enemy is Sobek, represented by a crocodile in mythology. He is a hulking mass of a villain who rides atop an elephant. Sobek is introduced at his base camp in silhouette when a nervous rider enters his tent and reports that his army will be late. Sobek rises, his shadow dwarfs the man, as he spews aggressive orders. He ducks to exit the tent, and we realize Sobek is taller than the horses.
This imposing enemy invades Egypt with a full-scale battle. Osiris defeats Sobek, who is armed with a sickle-like weapon made of an elephant tusk. While Osiris is master of combat, Set is genius of strategy. The people of Egypt see Osiris is pivotal in protecting their home, even though Set commanded chariots which were instrumental in their success.
Egyptians consult with artists and plan to carve a nearby rocky hill into a statue to remember Osiris. Ever since the legend of the lion, the people have equated Osiris to the king of the jungle. They decide to memoralize him by turning the hill into a lion – the Sphinx. Set reaches a tipping point. His lust for power leads him to scheme his brother’s death, which will unfold according to legend. Osiris is manipulated and never suspects Set’s plan. For further conflict, Set threatens Nephthys if she doesn’t help with the trap. He’s so ruthless he’s willing to sacrifice his son, Anubis, threatening his life to Nephthys in order to sit on the throne.
Set’s plan works. He dismembers Osiris’ body and sends them out to different corners of the land. A pregnant Isis sets out on a mission with Khnum and recovers them all, leaving behind a small mound of rocks as a headstone at each site – the first pyramids in effect. By the time she is done, Set has tainted Egypt. It doesn’t resemble the peaceful nation she birthed with Osiris. Nephthys objects, trying to stop Set, as he sets out to raid nearby beaudoins and steal from their culture, leaving no one left alive.
The collected bodyparts are brought to Anubis, in effect creating the first mummy by wrapping the parts together to form a whole body. Anubis is symbolized with the head of a jackal in mythology and in charge of the underworld. Jackals are representatives because they would circle the early tombs of Egyptians and scavenge remains. Anubis here would be the healer, interested in medicine, herbs, and human biology. The artist who helped plan the Sphinx insists on placing a mane around Osiris’ head, like King Tut’s sarcophagus. They bury the body in secret and mark the grave with a small pyramid again.
Frightened by what Set is capable of and warned by Nephthys, Isis has her child in secret and sends him out with Khnum to another land far away (like Babylon along the Euphrates perhaps). There, he will be raised as a warrior, but also taught the arts from Khnum and sciences from Anubis, who acts as a go-between with Isis sending messages. When Nephthys is confronted by Set, she keeps Horus a secret, and he kills her for it.
JUMP CUT: Years later, when Horus (Shameik Moore from DOPE) is a young man, he sets out to get revenge and reclaim Egypt in his father’s name. Set forms his troops against Khnum and Horus, but Anubis and Isis have formed their own small army with devoted believers of Osiris and slaves that were forced to rush the Sphinx (now in Set’s image according to his version of history).
Isis learns of Nephthys’ murder from Anubis, only fueling her rage more. Despite Anubis asking her not to kill his father, since he’ll have no family, she does. Set is out-smarted by the woman he initially dismissed. She sent her son to slay his troops and reclaim Egypt for her husband, but Isis will strike the final blow, killing Set face-to-face.
After Set’s defeat, artists and builders willingly finish the Sphinx in Osiris’ image. Horus rules Egypt with his mother. Meanwhile, Khnum accepts his unspoken place in building Egypt’s legacy, as the unsung hero. The film ends on the hill that Osiris and Isis would stare at the stars, she tells Horus how the constellations move across the sky, passing on his father’s knowledge (gained from his father).
Khnum stands by, watching them. Isis looks at him fondly. Their subtle unspoken love remains silent and unrequited. More than anything, they love the idea of Egypt, passed on to them by Osiris, and will forever be linked. When they look down from the stars, they see their city along the Nile, with the Sphinx nearly finished, and the first preliminary attempt at a pyramid near Osiris’ final resting place.
THE CAST: It’s about time we have an all-Black historical epic adventure. It’d be fantastic to watch heavyweights like Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor against each other. Meanwhile, Nate Parker who is an underrated actor (from the upcoming record-breaking Sundance sale BIRTH OF A NATION), can subtly command the screen, delivering emotion without words. His character, Khnum, needs to be an under-the-radar hero, so I think Parker could surprise the audience in that regard. Young actors like Corey Hawkins, Lupita Nyong’o, and Shameik Moore can all handle drama, which is the main emphasis with this adaptation.
The role of Isis is incredibly important, so I selected Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is primed to blow up (also appearing in the upcoming BEAUTY & THE BEAST). This is a strong character who is ultimately behind every power move of this metaphorical chess game for the Kingdom of Egypt — and we need to believe it. Raw is totally captivating in every frame, drawing us to wonder what she thinks and feels, therefore she’s perfect for the Queen of Egypt.
This story needs to be told, and not with Christian Bale in the lead. There are so many important historical adaptations that have never been filmed. Some of the audience doesn’t enjoy reading textbooks, so it’s essential to spread the eons of wonder with cinema. Should mythological stories mash up with history for entertainment’s sake to encourage further research in the subject?
What do you think?
Are we ready for a historical adventure led by a Black cast? Is the tale of Osiris better for a film or an episodic adaptation? Let us know.