Exclusive: Barack and Michelle Obama Teaming with Russo Brothers on Netflix Movie ‘Exit West’

     March 5, 2020

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In August 2017, it was announced that Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo had acquired rights to Mohsin Hamid‘s bestseller Exit West. Several months later, Barack Obama included Exit West on his list of the best books he read that year. And now, multiple sources say they’re in talks to team up and produce a feature adaptation for Netflix, with Riz Ahmed attached to star, and Yann Demange directing.

Netflix and a representative for the Russo brothers had no comment, while representatives for Ahmed and Demange did not respond to requests for comment.

Exit West tackles the global refugee crisis and takes place in an unidentified country in the Middle East, where young Saeed and burqa-wearing 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 traveling 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. A third door takes them to California’s Marin County. In each location, their relationship is tested by their 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.

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Image via Marvel Studios

After signing a first-look deal with the Russos, Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) was initially attached to direct, though Demange has since come aboard. The Russo brothers will produce via their AGBO banner along with Barack and Michelle Obama and their company Higher Ground Productions. AGBO’s Mike Larocca will also produce with Higher Ground’s Tonia Davis and Priya Swaminathan, and a new writer is expected to be hired.

Hamid is the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was turned into a 2012 movie that actually starred Ahmed. The British Pakistani actor broke out two years later in Nightcrawler, and has since gone on to star in Hollywood blockbusters such as Jason Bourne, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Venom. He has also stayed true to his indie roots, starring in The Sisters Brothers, the upcoming drama Sound of Metal, and the rap movie Mogul Mowgli, which he also co-wrote and produced.

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Image via Annapurna Pictures

Demange recently directed White Boy Rick, on which Ahmed had a Special Thanks credit, so the two certainly seem to know each other. The French-Algerian helmer previously directed the Jack O’Connell drama ’71, and he also serves as a director and executive producer on the upcoming HBO series Lovecraft Country from Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams.

Higher Ground recently produced the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory and the acclaimed documentary Crip Camp, which opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The company is also developing several other projects, including a movie about Frederick Douglass and a scripted anthology series based on The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column Overlooked.

The Russos recently wrapped production on the Tom Holland-starring movie they directed called Cherry, and they also produced the upcoming Chris Hemsworth action movie Extraction, which hits Netflix next month. AGBO is currently in production on the Jamie Lee Curtis sci-fi movie Everything Everywhere All at Once from the directors of Swiss Army Man. The Russos are represented by WME, which also reps Ahmed along with Gordon and French. Demange is repped by CAA and Independent Talent Group. For more on Cherry, click here.

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