(L-R) Sarena Khan, Andra Gordon, Jacqui Barcos, Darnell Martin and Chris Philip
Courtesy of Lippin Group
Sarena Khan and Andra Gordon’s Athena Pictures and Starlings Television, led by Chris Philip, have teamed with Propagate Content’s Ben Silverman to co-produce Shadowland, a female-driven wildlife crime thriller series, from Jacqui Barcos, director Darnell Martin (American Rust, The Good Lord Bird) and executive producer Peter Elkoff (Sons of Anarchy, Chance).
Shadowland is based on the real-life experiences of two wildlife crime operatives, both former U.S. special operations counter-terrorism specialists with decades of combined experience working in some of the most dangerous places in the world, now dedicated to uncovering the real drivers behind Africa’s wildlife crime crisis.
After Khan, Gordon and Barcos landed the story rights in a highly competitive bidding process, Barcos and Khan embarked on an undercover trip to South Africa with the operatives to research the project firsthand. In the vein of The Wire, Shadowland delves into both the socio- economic factors behind wildlife crime as well as the shocking, unspoken truth behind Africa’s dire poaching crisis: the guardians installed to protect endangered wildlife are, in fact, often the worst offenders.
The story follows a fierce and reclusive female wildlife activist who is thrown together with a reticent special operations vet to uncover a plot to ambush a rhino translocation caravan – ultimately, the flawed pair expose a massive web of corruption, taking it apart piece by piece. Based on real people and events, producers say “Shadowland is in the end a love story set against a backdrop that is quintessentially African: beautiful and stark, fraught and hopeful, a land of life and death, of light and shadow.”
Nordic Entertainment Group streamer Viaplay has nabbed pre-sales multi-territory rights to Shadowland in the Nordics, Baltics, Poland and the Netherlands. This is the latest project between Starlings and NENT since Honor, which was set up at NBC.
Athena Pictures’ Khan and Gordon executive produce alongside Starlings Television President/Executive Producer Chris Philip, Starlings Entertainment CEO/EP Karine Martin and Silverman. South African writer/producer Rohan Dickson (Reyka), has joined the writing team alongside Barcos who wrote the pilot. Shadowland was developed in partnership with Executive Producers Natalya Pavchinskya (Buffalo Boys, Hotel Mumbai) and Jomon Thomas (The Man Who Knew Infinity, Hotel Mumbai) through S’Ya Concept, sourced by American Entertainment Investors.
Martin, set to direct all episodes of season one, said, “What spoke to me personally, as an African-American woman, is the fierce woman of color, Kaia, who’s like a Marvel superhero in the bush – she’s a real Black Panther fighting a very real and nasty syndicate, caught up in exploiting all of mother nature, her women, her children, her land. Every season we see that the big sellers are connected. Poaching, prostitution, drugs, terrorism and politics. And it’s all played out in an aria of bad ass, brutal action scenes that have the rawness of the street intercut with the grace of wild animals fighting.”
Philip commented, “Shadowland is that rare series which not only takes us on an entertaining and emotional journey, but also sheds light on a dire situation in our world today. With such a strong team eager to tell this story, we are poised to excite and shock audiences around the world.”
Alongside the series, the team is building a social action campaign to drive attention and raise support in the fight against wildlife crime. Counter-wildlife trafficking expert and series consultant Tim Spalla has been named a National Geographic Investigator. Spalla, along with his still-undercover partner and their field teams, have been tracking and disrupting wildlife crime syndicates operating throughout Africa since 2015.
Starlings Television brokered the pre-sale along with Niche Media Global’s Tom Davidson to Viaplay with Nordic Entertainment Group’s Senior Acquisitions Manager, Eve Ramagge. Barcos is repped by Authentic Talent and Literary Management, Claire Best & Associates and Pryor Cashman; Martin by Hirsch, Wallerstein, Hayum, Matlof and Fishman; Elkoff by ICM and Brechen, Feldman, Briemer, Silver, Thompson; Dickson by Gersh; and Athena Pictures by CAA and Fox Rothschild.
Deadline's Denise Petski contributed to this post.