Fresh off his Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor, for his performance in a film that was his feature acting debut, Barkhad Abdi has booked what will be his follow-up role in a historical drama centered on famous South African marathon runner, Willie Mtolo.

Titled The Place That Hits The Sun, the project hails from producer Noel Pearson (My Left Foot), with Jim O’Hanlon attached to direct.

Abdi will play Mtolo, the South African running legend who was born in 1964, and has participated in more than 23 marathons in South Africa and around the world. He has won 9 marathons, including the J.S.E. Marathon (1985), S.A. Marathon (1988), Ford Marathon (1988), Two Oceans Marathon (1990), Peninsula Marathon (1990), Rotterdam Marathon (1993), Kosice Marathon (1998), Macau Marathon (2000) and Hong Kong Marathon (2001). 

Mtolo currently organizes charity runs for peace in the townships and has opened his own athletic academy called Willie Athletic Club.

Abdi will play Mtolo, in a project that will center on the unlikely friendship that “transcended apartheid” between Mtolo and a white bar owner named Ray de Vries. Of course – we certainly can’t have a film about Mtolo without the rote inclusion of his relation to some specific white man – not-so unlike several past films on the lives of public figures of African descent (see the many films about Nelson Mandela, for example).

I did wonder what Abdi’s future as an actor held, expecting that his opportunities would be limited. But, I suppose, despite my reservations about this particular project, a starring role, playing a famous personality is a promising step.