Watch the 20-minute interview below (my original post on James follows underneath):
If you’re not already familiar with Jamaican author Marlon James, now is the time to become familiar, as he’s having quite a year! Most notably, his latest novel (also his 3rd), “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” published by Riverhead Books, was awarded the 2015 prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction – a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel, written in the English language, and published in the UK. The winner of the Man Booker Prize is generally assured a certain amount of international renown and success, which James is currently starting to enjoy. This marked the first time that a Jamaican-born author has won the prize. According to the BBC: “[Man Booker judge Michael] Wood said the judges came to a unanimous decision in less than two hours. He praised the book’s ‘many voices’ – it contains more than 75 characters – which ‘went from Jamaican slang to Biblical heights’.”
The novel spans several decades and explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1976 and its aftermath – through the crack wars in New York City in the 1980s and a changed Jamaica in the 1990s. It’s an *epic* read, as I’ve been told by those who have read it. I just picked up a copy for myself.
James’ novel has apparently been on *everyone’s* radar since it was published last October (2014); it also won the Anisfield-Wolf Award and Minnesota Book Award, and was named a finalist for the NBCC Award for Fiction.
In addition to the Man Booker Prize for Fiction win, HBO has optioned the novel, and is planning a TV series based on it. James will be adapting his novel for the small screen, working closely with screenwriter Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Munich”).
And on top of that, the author, speaking to Man of the World Magazine, shared that, for his follow-up to “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” he will “geek the fuck out” and create his own fantasy series. Our friends at Vulture got the goods on James’ plans, reporting that James describes what he has in mind as “an African Game of Thrones.”
The author said: “I realized how sick and tired I was of arguing about whether there should be a black hobbit in ‘Lord of the Rings.’ African folklore is just as rich, and just as perverse as that shit. We have witches, we have demons, we have goblins, and mad kings. We have stories of royal succession that would put ‘Wolf Hall’ to shame. We beat the Tudors two times over.”
No kidding! I’ve been screaming this idea for a couple of years now on this blog, and even wrote an entire piece on it, so I’m glad that he’s going to attempt this.
As Vulture adds: “James is not using the word geek lightly; this thing is going to be seriously nerdy. ‘One hundred pages describing a village? Hell yeah,’ he promises. ‘A big appendix on magic techniques? Of course I’m gonna do it. Two hundred pages on a mysterious dwarf race that lives underground? Fuck yes.'”
His enthusiasm will hopefully be contagious.
As for when he hopes to complete this seemingly herculean task, James didn’t say.
I’d however be remiss if I didn’t add that there have been black writers who’ve written “Game of Thrones”-like fantasy novels, so James certainly won’t be the first. I think he’s just in a position that others who came before him haven’t enjoyed, thanks to his winnings, and all the press attention, mainstream awareness and more, that come along with that. The HBO option of “Seven Killings,” partnering him up with a multiple Oscar nominated/winning writer to develop, certainly puts him in rare air.
But to summarize what I’ve suggested repeatedly on this blog over the years, I could definitely envision a “Game of Thrones”-style fantasy TV series (on premium cable TV as well), but instead of being set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, created by author George R. R. Martin, the many stories would unfold within the several African kingdoms that ruled the pre-colonial continent, before the so-called “Scramble for Africa” in the late 1800s.
And I’m not even referring to those ancient BC empires of Egypt; we don’t have to go that far into the past. Between the 1400s and the 1800s there were a number of kingdoms/empires/dynasties that ruled all over Africa – like the Saadi dynasty in Morocco, to the Sultanate of Sennar in Sudan, and the Ethiopian dynasties in the east, to the Oyo, Benin and Ashanti empires all in West Africa, to the Mutapa empire and Zulu kingdom in the south, and so on.
Each of them with their own different clans or lineages, operating under different sets of regulations – whether despotic, or more democratic, ruled by a single king with omnipotent power, or regulated by a collective of elder statesmen – and almost everything else between, with multi-national parts, varied populations and polities, all often existing under a single entity, usually via conquest.
Many of these empires/kingdoms/dynasties existed simultaneously – as contemporaries – but in different parts of the continent.
The story possibilities are endless – like “Game Of Thrones,” a plethora of characters scattered throughout lands, interweaving several different plot lines, following members of the many noble tribes, the threats of invasion and conquest by other empires, the various interior battles and schemes within each dynasty, all chasing control of the throne; the mythologies, the folklore, the morally ambiguous characters, exploring issues of social hierarchy, religion, civil war, sexuality, crime and punishment, and much more.
It’s all there, ripe for the picking – or I should say, filming!
The series doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely based on real-life stories. The settings, characters and plot elements could all be inspired by historical accounts, but don’t have to be entirely factual.
The stories and characters in “Game of Thrones” are inspired by a very broad range of periods in European history; and the same could be done here. It’ll be a fantasy series after all, so there’ll be some otherworldly, fantastical elements included, which won’t be in the history books.
Although I’m certainly not arguing against a series that is based entirely on historical fact either.
I’d just love to see something like this done for the screen, and of course with a similar budget, level of production values and talent (both in front of and behind the camera), etc, and released on a premium cable TV channel as an ongoing series, like “Game of Thrones.”
We’ve written about novels like those from the “Sword And Soul” genre/series over the years, including “Zulu Heart,” “Shades Of Mennon” and “Zulu Mech” – which Wesley Snipes was adapting at one point – and others. Although, other than Snipes’ efforts, I’m not aware that any other fantasy novels by and about people of the diaspora, have ever been adapted to film or TV, or are currently on a sure-path to becoming realized on film or TV. Long-time readers of this blog will know that we’re constantly pushing literary works by black authors (especially those in the more fantastical genres) as inspiration for black filmmakers. And we will continue to do so.
I’d like to believe something like what I propose would sell, and audiences would watch (and not just black audiences); but given that nothing like this has ever been attempted before, it’s a risk that I doubt most with the resources to make something like this a reality, would be willing to take.
But maybe a fantasy series first written by a Man Booker Prize winning author, with lots of acclaim, growing mainstream awareness, and an HBO series on his resume, might be given a look.
In the meantime, you can pick up James’ “A Brief History of Seven Killings” via Amazon here. The book is listed as an Amazon “#1 Bestseller.”