As a story that has been told approximately 200 times over the last 100 years, the Warner Bros. Pictures drama, “The Legend of Tarzan,” which opened domestically on July 1, 2016 really needed something different to set itself apart.
While “Tarzan” opened to low expectations due to it’s rumored $180 million dollar mark price tag, the movie surprised most movie professionals by outperforming all estimates with a strong opening weekend coming in second to “Finding Dory” and beating “The Purge: Election Year” by a solid margin.
While “Tarzan” still has some serious work to do overseas in order to recoup the sizeable budget that made it possible, to it’s credit the movie has attempted to make some real strides in regards to Samuel L. Jackson’s character and not re-branding Tarzan as yet another reincarnation of Africa’s “Great White Hope.”
No question, the very fictional Tarzan, as played by Alexander Skarsgard, is still the unmitigated star of “The Legend of Tarzan.”
However, Samuel L. Jackson’s co- starring role as the historically real George Washington Williams, one of the world’s first African American activists for the fair treatment of all Africans in the Congo, is a welcome inclusion to the latest revamp of this American classic.
“It was my first time hearing about him,” admitted Jackson in describing his initial discussions with “The Legend of Tarzan” director David Yates (director of the final four “Harry Potter” films).
“It was kind of like, this is a real guy?” stated Jackson, on Williams, adding: “I started reading through stuff and I was totally captivated.”
George Washington Williams was a former African American Civil War soldier and journalist who traveled to King Leopold II’s Congo Free State in the year 1890.
Upon seeing the institutionalized victimization of the native Congolese by the agents King Leopold II had hired, Williams wrote a famous open letter to the king and the world, informing Leopold II of the abuses suffered there in his name and demanding an immediate halt to those indignities.
From this historical standpoint, much like the attributes that can be ascribed to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and it’s most effective activists, Williams was someone who did not back down in the face of seemingly unfathomable odds.
However, in order to best get across this sort of toughness, an actor needs to be able to project a certain charisma.
While Jackson generally isn’t known to be short on charisma, when he arrived in London to start shooting “The Legend of Tarzan,” there was a problem:
“When David (Yates) and I first met and he cast me in the film, I looked one way, ” stated Jackson, recounting how when he saw David again closer to the actual shoot date for “The Legend of Tarzan,” he had lost 30 pounds for another role.
“(David) was very kind to me and nice and I got back to my hotel that night and my agent called and said, ‘they’re going to fire you if you don’t gain 20 pounds.’ It’s like, “what?” She’s like, ‘they want you to be formidable.’ I said, ‘I thought being thin like this would make Alexander look bigger!” said Jackson with a wry laugh adding: ” I went out that night and bought a three stack burger and stopped being a vegan pretty much immediately.”
From that point on Jackson underwent a strategic exercise and diet regimen to flesh out his “The Legend of Tarzan” character in a manner becoming such an important and impressive addition to the “Tarzan” myth.
So while “The Legend of Tarzan” has it’s ups and downs when it comes to being the perfect origin movie, it doesn’t make the tragic misstep of allowing Tarzan to be the only badass in the jungle.