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Aunjanue Ellis, Louis Gossett Jr., Cuba Gooding Jr. Board 'The Book of Negroes' Adaptation

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act February 4, 2014 at 12:21PM

Aunjanue Ellis, Louis Gossett Jr., Cuba Gooding Jr. Board 'The Book of Negroes' Adaptation
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Clement Virgo + The Book of Negroes
Clement Virgo + The Book of Negroes

Movement on Canadian filmmaker Clement Virgo's much-anticipated film adaptation of author Lawrence Hill’s award-winning bestseller, The Book of Negroes.


I've received word that Louis Gossett Jr., Cuba Gooding Jr., Aunjanue Ellis and Lyriq Bent have all been cast in the project from Conquering Lion Pictures, Out of Africa Entertainment and Entertainment One (eOne) Television. 

Ben Chaplin, Allan Hawko and Jane Alexander round out the cast.

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.

No word on what roles each actor will play. Although I'd guess that Aunjanue Ellis will play the adult Aminata. Unless there's further key casting to be announced.

When we last checked in on director Virgo's progress, last spring, we learned that it actually will no longer be a feature-length film, but 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 BET got involved in the project, teaming up with CBC in Canada, to bring the mini-series adaptation to the small screen. BET owns USA broadcast rights to the miniseries, so, obviously, it'll air on BET eventually. I anticipate it'll debut during the 2014/2015 TV season.

Principal photography begins this week in South Africa and continues in Nova Scotia this spring.

“The Book of Negroes is a deeply inspirational, triumphant story that needs to be told, and we are proud to be part of a project that has the ability and pedigree to attract a cast as exceptional as Lou, Cuba, Aunjanue, Lyriq, Ben, Allan and Jane,” said Carrie Stein, the executive VP of global production at eOne Television. 

Loretha Jones, the president of original programming at BET Networks, added, “We are thrilled to join forces with the CBC, eOne and the talented cast and creative team for this special project. Aminata and her journey symbolize the indomitable spirit of so many of our ancestors who not only survived the horrible institution of slavery, but also prevailed under trying circumstances. It is that legacy that we hope will continue to inspire our young people today.”

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, 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."

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.

This article is related to: Clement Virgo, Aunjanue Ellis, Louis Gossett Jr., Cuba Gooding


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