EXCLUSIVE: While Martin Scorsese has just finished The Wolf Of Wall Street and next helms his passion project Silence, the filmmaker has been brainstorming a limited series with Harry Belafonte. It’s not set up, but I’ve heard they are gathering source material and interviewing writers, with Scorsese planning to direct the first installment and secure top talent to helm the rest. The subject: King Leopold II, the rich Belgian monarch who ruled in the late 1800s. Belafonte’s interest stems from Leopold’s lucrative and horrific expansion into the rubber trade in the Congo, a move that decimated the local population.
After trying unsuccessfully to make a move into the Philippines, Leopold set his sights on controlling the Congo. He came in with promises of helping the native inhabitants, and became the sole owner of the Congo Free State. His secret goal: to quietly pillage the natural resources, including the inhabitants. After finding the returns a disappointment in the collection of ivory, Leopold made a killing by hiring a private army assigned to force locals to collect sap from rubber plants at a time when that business was booming. Leopold essentially enslaved the locals and kept quiet the atrocities that became part and parcel of his rule. When villagers did not meet quotas, his forces cut off their hands. His regime was responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese.