The difference between books I’d love to see become TV series and those I’d love to see become movies is simple and obvious. If the book is part of a series, it needs to be adapted for television Game of Thrones style, with one or two seasons to cover each book. But if the book is a stand-alone, it could work very well as a movie. What the Big Screen needs even more than its small counterpart is diversity, so that’s the theme for my choices of dream book-to-movie transformations.
Kindred. OscarsSoWhiteMale? A well-done adaptation of Octavia Butler’s compelling and troubling timeslip fantasy could be a big step away from that, with Selma‘s Ava DuVernay directing and Condola Rashad, of Showtime’s Billions, starring as Dana, the modern African-American woman mysteriously transported to an antebellum plantation. Dana is just the sort of active, smart, complex heroine the movies could use more of, and her story, if told with the care and attention it merits, should be impossible for the Academy to ignore. Oscars all around, for DuVernay, Rashad, and the heartbreaking score by Thomas Newman.
Wild Seed. If Kindred‘s Dana is a victim of circumstance who must find a way to claim some measure of power despite a system designed to keep her powerless, Anyanwu, the heroine of another Butler classic Wild Seed, is a mighty force, a shape-shifting entity whose transformations are delightfully detailed; her transformation into a dolphin, for instance, could become a moment of pure joy on screen. Anyanwu is a figure of creativity and love, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who impressed me in the underrated costume drama Belle, could bring her to vivid life. For her opposite, the destructive Doro, Idris Elba would be perfect; he even fits Butler’s description of the character. He could endow Doro with the charisma he needs in order for an audience to understand how so many people could willingly fall under the evil man’s spell.
Who Fears Death. I don’t have a dream cast for this one. Onyesonwu, the heroine of Nnedi Okorafor’s fantasy of injustice, anger, and supernatural power struggles in post-Apocalyptic Africa, could be a career maker for some gifted unknown. (Twenty years ago, the superb Sophie Okonedo might have played her to perfection.) The story is harrowing and hopelessly involving, impossible to look away from even though all instincts warn that heartbreak waits at the end, as Onyesonwu tries to understand the nature of her strange power and the responsibilities that come with it. Done right, this movie could leave an audience devastated — in a good way — for hours afterward.
The Secrets of Jin-Shei. A faithful, well-directed, and well-cast rendering of Alma Alexander’s fantasy novel set in mythic China, with its roster of heroines ranging from an introspective poet to an ambitious alchemist to a sensual dancer, could transport audiences and leave them breathless. As with Who Fears Death, I don’t have a dream cast for this one (although Michelle Yeoh might be wonderful as the narrator, the poet looking back on her youth and friendships), but Ang Lee, so brilliant at the helm of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Sense and Sensibility, is the very director to do the project justice. I don’t really see Hollywood having much to do with it at all. Rather, I see an Asian cast, screenwriter, and cinematographer (Peter Pau, who worked with Lee on Crouching Tiger). This could be a strong Best Foreign Language Film contender.
The Rook. Daniel O’Malley’s novel of a secret organization of metahumans operating in London is one of the few urban fantasies I like unconditionally. Like my other choices, it’s led by women, with a hapless heroine, Myfanwy Thomas, coming into her strength guided by a series of letters from her pre-amnesiac self. Jenna Coleman, recently departed from Doctor Who, matches with uncanny precision the physical description of Myfanwy in the book, so much that I have a hard time picturing anyone else in the role. She has the smarts and the energy to pull it off. Cate Blanchett is probably too big a star to be considered for the role of secretary Ingrid, who’s much more badass than she first appears, but she’s the actress I have in my head. And Firefly alum Gina Torres would rock as Shantay, the American metahuman agent who becomes Myfanwy’s bestie.