Omar Sy stars in the French-Language film, "Chocolat," which is based on the life of Rafael Padilla – a former Cuban-born slave, who became a performer in France during the Belle Epoque era.
In short, nicknamed "Chocolat," Padilla was born in Cuba in 1868 and was sold into slavery at the age of 9, to a Portuguese merchant. After escaping slavery, he traveled to Paris and launched a career in the circus, captivating the French with his talents as a singer and dancer, and as a clown, working under the stage name of "Chocolat," a term that, because of the roles he played, became slang for "ridiculed or abused."
When his parents died, the woman charged with looking after him sent him to Europe, where Rafael hoped to find his freedom. He did odd jobs in Spain, and eventually arrived in Paris in 1887, at the age of 18, where he was discovered by Footit, a British clown who needed a partner. Rafael then joined the circus, where he was habitually cast in denigrating roles – like king of the monkeys, slave to Cleopatra, King of the jungle, etc. And it was there that he began to find himself.
He died in Bordeaux on November 4, 1917.
French-Moroccan actor/director Roschdy Zem, is helming "Chocolat," which is complete, and is currently being shopped at the Cannes Film Market to distributors worldwide. And while it’s been picked up for release in a handful of territories, it hasn’t attracted a USA distribute yet. Although it’s reportedly of interest to some of them, given what is said to be a strong performance by Omar Sy – possibly one that would lead to awards recognition.
French distribution company Gaumont has set a February 2016 release date in France for "Chocolat," so, likely whoever picks up its USA rights will probably aim for a release some time after that – in the fall possibly, especially if it’s to be an awards season contender.
Given Omar Sy’s relationship with The Weinstein Company, who released 2 of his few last French films, in the USA, I’d assume that they would have eyes on this one too.
Above is a first official image from the film.
Omar Sy made history when he became the first black actor to win the César Award for Best Actor (the French equivalent of the Oscars) in 2012, for his work in "Intouchables." He since has been making himself familiar to American audiences, after moving with his family to Los Angeles, and booking roles in Hollywood fare, like the last X-Men movie.
"Chocolat" was immortalized by the painter Toulouse-Lautrec in 1896. The duo he formed with Footit was also filmed by the Lumière brothers, as you can watch in the video footage below, which I was very surprised, and quite pleased, to find online: