Production is underway in South Africa on Clement Virgo’s much-anticipated film adaptation of author Lawrence Hill’s award-winning bestseller, The Book of Negroes.
Boasting one of the strongest female characters in recent 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.
Aunjanue Ellis stars as Aminata Diallo, while Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lou Gossett Jr. play Sam Fraunces and Daddy Moses respectively.
Gooding’s Fraunces is a freed slave from Jamaica who runs his namesake tavern (Fraunces Tavern), participates in historical events, and later moves to Mount Vernon to run George Washington’s household
Meanwhile, Daddy Moses is Moses ‘Daddy‘ Wilkinson or Old Moses, an African American slave, and Methodist preacher in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. Though blind and crippled, Wilkinson led a band of runaway slaves to freedom in 1776.
Also Lyriq Bent is playing Chekura, who, as a young boy, made the crossing with Aminata when she was sold into slavery, is separated from her, and are later reunited as adults, and have a child together.
Allan Hawco is Solomon Lindo (a Jewish man Aminata is sold to), Ben Chaplin is Capt. John Clarkson (a young British naval officer recruiting black settlers to move from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone) and Jane Alexander plays a Maria Witherspoon, the matriarch of a white family that Aminata leaves her baby with, for safety, during a series of riots that break out as the city she lives in is attacked and black men and women are lynched. She later returns to the Witherspoon’s home to claim her child only to learn that they’ve left with the baby.
The adaptation of the novel is a 6-hour TV mini-series, which, as I’ve said previously, was more suitable for the material than a feature-length film. 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.
USA rights belong to BET, who got involved in the project, teaming up with CBC in Canada, to bring the mini-series adaptation to the small screen.
With principal photography set to run through May, shooting mainly in South Africa, and Canada, I anticipate it’ll debut during the 2014/2015 TV season.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of The Book Of Negroes to read, click HERE to purchase. I bought it last year, and will write up a book-to-screen review of it soon.
The Book of Negroes is an official Canada-South Africa co-production, executive produced by Damon D’Oliveira and Clement Virgo from Conquering Lion Pictures; Lance Samuels from Out of Africa Entertainment; Bill Niven of Idlewild Films; and eOne’s Carrie Stein and Margaret O’Brien. Other executive producers include Daniel Iron and Michael Levine.
While we wait for some official images and footage from the film, here are a handful of on-set photos (with provided captions) shared via the project’s Twitter page, which give us a glimpse into the world that director Virgo and company are building: