Home Features The true history behind ‘The Legend of Tarzan’
The true history behind ‘The Legend of Tarzan’

The true history behind ‘The Legend of Tarzan’


We’re just weeks away from seeing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ jungle hero Tarzan being brought to life on the big screen in David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan, and while previous trailers have made it clear just how much action we can expect, Yates appears to have also added a healthy dose of truth and two formidable historical characters into this adaptation.

While star Alexander Skarsgard is sure to enjoy plenty of vine-swinging action as the mighty Lord of the apes, it’s his mission in the jungles of the Congo that draws out the historical implications of the film. Set during the height of the Belgian occupation of the Free Congo State, Skarsgard’s Clayton will find an ally in real-life Civil War veteran and African American historian George Washington Williams, played by the legendary Samuel L. Jackson.

The Legend of Tarzan George Washington Williams SpicyPulp

Williams’ involvement in the plot is crucial to the story. Following the American Civil War, he travelled to the Congo and was witness to the atrocities inflicted upon the natives by the Belgian contingent on orders from King Leopold II. Leopold had invaded the Congo region in an effort to exploit the lucrative ivory and rubber trades that were established there, and he was not above using terror to get what he wanted. In 1890, Williams took steps to address these atrocities publically to both the king and the international community in a damning letter and legal case, where he called for an investigation to be carried out.

Williams’ real-life journey will provide the backdrop for The Legend of Tarzan, where he teams up with the fictional hero to bring down the Belgian contingent and save Jane. In the trailers released so far, Samuel L. Jackson’s Williams is shown as a dynamic man of action, who will do whatever is necessary to restore justice.


The film has been given another historical touch in the form of Christoph Waltz’s chief antagonist Captain Leon Rom. This debonair but twisted villain has the cadence of a big game hunter, and appears to bear some kind of personal vendetta against Tarzan. Waltz’s portrayal appears to be in keeping with his real-life counterpart, who was a sadistic Belgian soldier appointed to annex the Congo State. He personally enslaved many Congolese into forced labour camps, and showed no mercy to those who fought back. His villainy was so well known that he even inspired famed author Joseph Conrad’s infamous Colonel Kurtz in a Heart of Darkness. Waltz has long had a skill for villainy, and he should prove to be a worthy adversary for both Tarzan and Williams.

The Legend of Tarzan will be released in theatres on June 30 in New Zealand and Australia and on July 1 in the US and UK.

Image source: Roadshow Films.