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Whoa! BET Boards Clement Virgo’s Adaptation Of Controversial ‘Book Of Negroes’

Whoa! BET Boards Clement Virgo's Adaptation Of Controversial 'Book Of Negroes'

An interesting update on a project we’ve been following since 2011, when we first learned about it.

Until today, what we’ve known is that Canadian filmmaker Clement Virgo has been developing a highly-anticipated film adaptation of author Lawrence Hill’s award-winning bestseller, The Book of Negroes.

Boasting one of the strongest female characters in recent Canadian fiction, the novel’s synopsis reads:

Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle—a string of slaves— Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes.” This book, an actual document, provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own. Aminata’s eventual return to Sierra Leone—passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America—is an engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey.

When we last checked in on director Virgo’s progress, in February of this year, we learned that it actually will no longer be a feature-length film. Instead, we discovered that Virgo was then planning a TV mini-series, which, as I said at the time, was more suitable for the material. It’s not a very long book at around 380 pages, paperback, but the material is weighty, and, I think, would be better told in long-form, instead of cramming it all into 2 hours.

Secondly, we also learned that production was scheduled to begin this fall, with Virgo heading to South Africa to scout locations.

This morning brings news that BET has gotten involved in the project, teaming up with CBC in Canada, to bring the mini-series adaptation to the small screen. Of course, Virgo is still attached as director, with production still scheduled to being in South Africa in the fall.

We are excited to partner with Conquering Lion Pictures, Out of Africa Entertainment and Entertainment One on this historic project and to bring the acclaimed Book of Negroes to life for the BET audience,” said Loretha Jones, president of original programming at BET Networks.

BET owns USA broadcast rights to a miniseries, so, obviously, it’ll air on BET eventually. I anticipate it’ll debut some time in 2014 – likely during the second half of that year.

I must say I’m really intrigued by this move by BET. It’s certainly not one I’d expect them to make. The book’s subject matter would be considered controversial, especially for a network like BET. Like I said, it’s weighty material, and likely not what BET’s core audience is accustomed to. So it’ll be interesting to see how it’s received.

Also, Virgo previously promised that he isn’t at all interested in making “this-is-good-for-you cinema” as he put it (or castor oil films as Sergio calls them), nor is he interested in going after what could be “your typical Masterpiece Theatre wig-and-wardrobe orgy” in the hands of the wrong director, quoting him again.

Virgo, whose own previous films are partly remembered for their “high-octane” style, with comparisons to early Spike Lee works (Do the Right Thing, notably), says he definitely understands the “energy” in the novel he is adapting, and knows what kind of adaptation it deserves, stating, “It’s a very fast-paced, modern book… it’s not stodgy at all. From a visual standpoint, I want to capture the rhythm of the book, keeping it moving forward… It’s definitely not a Merchant-Ivory kind of movie.

But I’m looking forward to seeing what Virgo eventually does with the original material, and I hope BET allows him to make the project he wants to make, and doesn’t insist on cuts of anything the network would deem too risque – within cable TV limits of course. 

If you’d like to pick up a copy of The Book Of Negroes to read, click HERE to purchase.

And on that note… here’s a interview/profile with Virgo, in which he talks about the project:

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