Hollywood superstar Margot Robbie is swapping the glamour of Barbie-mania for a hard-hitting action thriller movie highlighting the life of Zimbabwe-born New Zealand resident Jamie Joseph and her crusade to stop rhino poaching in South Africa.
The pair met in Hollywood in 2018 at a fundraiser for Joseph’s New Zealand charity Saving the Wild.
Robbie and her husband then flew to South Africa to visit Joseph in 2019 to learn more about the rhino crisis.
Robbie was appalled by the criminal activity that allowed the poaching to continue and was inspired by the dedication of Joseph and others who put their lives at risk to expose it.
The movie will be a fictionalised account of Joseph’s work.
There’s plenty of material to work with – undercover operations, assassinations of rangers, police officers and crime bosses, and corruption at every level.
The aim is to shine a global spotlight on the networks of corruption decimating South Africa’s rhino population, all for a horn that nobody needs.
Joseph was born in Zimbabwe but moved to New Zealand in 2009, setting up a base where other members of her family lived in the Bay of Plenty.
She produced music festivals, working with The Black Seeds and Tahuna Breaks among other Kiwi bands.
But the call of Africa was too strong to ignore and she felt compelled to put her efforts into the fight against the horrors of Africa’s rhino and elephant poaching crisis.
It became clear that the poaching was facilitated by organised crime and that it could never end if the corruption wasn’t dealt with. She began to work undercover to expose the operations.
Joseph’s story was featured in a TVNZ Sunday documentary, focusing on a rhino poaching kingpin Dumisani Gwala, who continues to avoid conviction.
His case in the courts lasted nearly a decade due to numerous delays and postponements brought about by his defence team.
Joseph campaigned on delays of this nature, producing a Blood Rhino Blacklist, which exposed justice officials who allegedly take bribes relating to rhino poaching and crimes against humanity.
It’s alleged many of those on the list paid money into the bank account of Court President Eric Nzimande. He was responsible for overseeing all regional magistrates in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) before Parliament confirmed his suspension in October 2018.
He currently faces 162 counts of misconduct, and this week criminal charges begin in the Durban Regional Court in South Africa.
It’s a historic trial that will bring the transparency of the state’s courts into question.
This battle for justice has been picked up by Robbie who wants to produce a fictionalised account under her LuckyChap production banner, the company she co-founded.
Joseph said “I am just the face of activism, and for this story, a way in”.
“The unsung heroes are the rangers and police officers and whistleblowers I work with, persecuted by their state employers for exposing corruption and pursuing high level targets.”
The movie comes at a critical time for Joseph.
“It has been an incredibly hard and challenging eight years – this year was especially devastating – and if it wasn’t for the support of New Zealanders donating to the cause, Saving the Wild might have been forced to shut down.
“I am deeply grateful that I get to return every summer, to recharge and spend time with friends and family in the country that is my sanctuary.”
The film will be produced by Robbie with her husband, producer Tom Ackerley, producer Anthony Mastromauro and Academy award winning screenwriter Charles Randolph (The Big Short).
Screenwriter Thomas “Eromose” Ikimi, has been finishing the script since the Hollywood writer’s strike ended. Filming is expected to begin in 2024.
Joseph will be back in New Zealand for the summer, working on events to highlight the cause and recharging with her friends and family before a very busy time next year.