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Dolen Perkins-Valdez Debut Novel "Wench" Optioned for Film Adaptation

by Vanessa Martinez
August 10, 2011 7:48 AM
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"Yes it's true, it has been optioned!" Those were the exact words from author Dolen Perkins-Valdez in a very brief exchange through Facebook, when I asked her if her compelling debut novel Wench had indeed been optioned for a movie adaptation.

For those of you not familiar with this New York Times bestseller, Wench is a well-researched, beautifully written but heartrending fiction tale of four slave women who befriend at the Tawawa resort in Ohio, a real historic establishment in the 1850's known for rich plantation owners to bring their enslaved black mistresses in the summers for a "vacation," in order to carry on with their illicit affairs away from plantation life and their wives.

The main character is Lizzie, a young slave woman who has two children by Drayle, her master. At the resort, she interacts and forms a bond with three other slave women: Mawu, Sweet and Reenie. Conflict arises when one of them plots to escape in the free state, stirring antagonistic emotions in Lizzie, who is tempted to escape but faces the complex dilemma of betraying her loyalty to Drayle, also the only paternal figure in her life, and of leaving her children behind.

Don't let the romantic and whimsical imagery of the book cover fool you. Having read it about a year and a half ago, Wench is brave, unflinching, and powerful. At times brutal, it will shock you, test your spirit and move you. Upon finishing it, I had trouble falling asleep trying to make sense out of these slave women's lives and awful predicaments. You are highly encouraged to read it. Buy it on Amazon HERE, and read some of the reviews.

I don't have anymore information about the option, but when I do, I will denitely give you an update. Although slavery films are controversial and not popular projects (Django Unchained aside); I'm highly interested in an adaptation for this one.

In a tweet dated July 25th of this year, Perkins-Valdez (@Dolen) expressed her desire for actress Nicole Beharie to play the leading role of Lizzie:

"Correction. Follow the REAL Nicole Beharie here: @nikkibeharie. Love her. I hope she has read Wench and wants to play Lizzie."

I can't disagree with her; I can see Beharie in the role.

Watch the video below where Dolen talks about how the idea for the novel came about.

Have you read the novel? If you have, would you like to see an adaptation on the screen, big or small? Who would you like to see cast in the main roles?

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez from Harper Books on Vimeo.

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  • misha | August 12, 2011 6:35 AMReply

    Haven't read the novel but am definitely interested in doing so now. Thanks for sharing, Vanessa. And I see Ms. Beharie stock is quickly rising. Good for her! I'm already a fan.

    @saadiyah, Kindred is my all-time favorite novel! Would love a film adaptation of it.

    I have seen both Feast of All Saints and The Courage to Love. The latter was of superior quality, I thought. But the lead female character(s) of those films were free, mulatto women. So there's one distinct difference between said films and the movie adaptation of Wench. I'm intrigued.

  • Tamara | August 12, 2011 3:00 AMReply

    "The Feast of All Saints": book better than the movie.

    "The Courage to Love": i know I've seen it but i can't remember much...

    "Wench": I've had this book on my wish-list forever. Time to buy it. Octavia Butler: I'm still holding my ticket to #thelatebus on this author's work.

    "The Island Beneath the Sea": I was interested in this book for the same reason I took to "Wide Sargasso Sea"---colonialism/slavery on island nations as opposed to the deep south. I did not complete Allende's novel. I basically lost interest...and it wasn't her best writing.

    *hijacking in 5, 4, 3, 2...*

    "Crossing the Mangrove" by Maryse Conde is more post-colonial than anything; magical realism; island nation; multiple viewpoints---wouldn't mind seeing this made into film. Likewise, "I, Tituba". I love Conde's work.

    *cease hijacking*

  • Kia | August 12, 2011 2:39 AMReply

    Let's be real here, the "people' that could really benefit from seeing this, aren't on this site. I'm referring to those teenagers--and it's a wide spectrum--who are conveniently ignorant to the past struggles or any struggle that's not a reality TV show, ridiculously narcissistic and seem clueless to positive self image and empowerment would not see this, much less read the book. Even I'm prompted to read this as it probably is an interesting piece of literature, but a feature film... no. Documentary, yes--at least teachers could probably force the kiddies to watch.

  • JMac | August 12, 2011 1:11 AMReply

    Orville, most slavery movies are from the white point of view - with the exception of Alex Haley's Queen. It'd still be nice to see a film about black women from a black woman's perspective which shows an ignored (and I think more damning) depiction of the slave/slave master relationship. From the reviews of this book, these women are not "typical" slaves. They each represent a different manifestation of it. Let's not forget how many HBCU's in this country were founded, who founded them, and who they were founded for.

    I admit I'd be more excited if this was a movie about free black women and have a kind of Bronte feel to it preferably w/o the white male involvement but thinking back to FOAS- it was about free women of color and they really didn't have a choice re: white male involvement. If my grandmother's memoirs taught me anything, it's that even free blacks who owned businesses and land during or immediately after slavery still weren't free. We can't present any U.S. story in any time period w/o touching on these issues... except maybe the past 20 years.

    I'd love to see a movie on Sarah Breedlove/Madam C.J. Walker. Would like seeing one on Zora but the effects of slavery and racism are still going to play a role in their lives- maybe not front and center throughout the whole film but lurking in the background. Black women in 2011 have it pretty damn easy compared to women just 60 years ago. They all deserve to be remembered. We shouldn't try to whitewash or completely overlook our history and their accomplishments just because it makes us cringe to see what they had to overcome so that our generation could flourish.

    I could care less if the movie is a hit. The message surpasses dollar signs.

  • blah blah | August 11, 2011 11:55 AMReply

    This reminds me of the film, which came out some years back, about a similar community of French men and their mulatto slave mistresses in New Orleans. I can for the life of me remember the name of that movie...

  • Orville | August 11, 2011 11:49 AMReply

    I can see why some people feel the whole slavery movies are kind of dry. How many times does a movie about slavery need to be made? I want to see a biopic about Zora Neale Hurston that would be interesting. I am not interested in seeing a movie about black female slaves and their white masters. I doubt this movie will be a hit anyway. I think Thandie Newton starred in some slave movies about this subject in the 1990s called Jefferson in Paris.

  • blah blah | August 11, 2011 10:40 AMReply


    Yes, Feast of All Saints. That is the movie. Definitely a hard watch however I think it is an important watch as well. Especially since when it comes to film, the black woman's experiences during slavery seems to be marginalized, if not downplayed, to the experience of black men. Thanks for the name. I got to see if I can find it on Netflix.

  • urbanauteur | August 11, 2011 7:42 AMReply

    @Kia, i take it U speak from the point of view of the part-whole or oxymoron,which? i cant even fathom what Black Women have to transverse everyday,dealing with that whiteboy,whitewoman,brothers(me) and that invisible spector-another black woman, but i will omit We all(masses) have those faternal air jordans are up our backside,so allow me the privelege to OUT Black women's [Quadruple Oppression] in all its fuck`d up splender.
    recommended reading & viewing:

    The island beneath the sea-Isabel Allende

    Yari Yari:black writer's and the future- Jane Cortez

  • Melissa | August 11, 2011 5:21 AMReply

    @ blah blah - I could get behind ANY Octavia Butler movie adaptation, as long as it seems like it'll be done right.

    But this movie....I am intrigued, but I understand the sentiment that so many movies are about oppression. But it's a reality we all face, whether we talk about it or not. I would LOVE to see a movie about a slave that got the hell on from massa's plantation and makes something of themselves....

  • JMac | August 11, 2011 4:48 AMReply

    @blah blah Are you thinking about the Feast of All Saints?

    Very disturbing series Showtime played based on Ann Rice's novel. I saw that and was completely disgusted - not in the quality of the story or the acting but just knowing that - fictional story or not- these were issues some black women had to endure then. I'll never watch it again.

    Or could be thinking about the Lifetime movie with Vanessa Williams and the Octaroon balls in "The Courage to Love." Not as heavy as Feast but still distasteful. Both of them came out about the same time.

    I'll probably treat Wench like those two productions. Watch it once and then try to forget the details.

  • saadiyah | August 10, 2011 12:12 PMReply

    I read the book and while I couldn't put it down, it was very disturbing. It's simply another story of Black women surviving a horrendous situation. Yes it's another side of slavery, but every side of slavery was horrible. This was no exception. The book was definitely not what I thought it would be. These women were still the property of these men, their slave masters, whom they had "affairs" with. None of them were able to forget it. The lucky ones were the ones that woke up to see another day. Or maybe the lucky ones were the ones that didn't...

    I will definitely be skipping this movie if/when if comes out. Now the movie adaption of Octavia Butler's "Kindred", I could get behind.

  • Vanessa Martinez | August 10, 2011 11:56 AMReply

    Movie or not, I URGE you all to read it. It's an important book. It will affect you emotionally, but you must.

  • Kia | August 10, 2011 11:37 AMReply


    Black woman don't need to be reminded of oppression, because we're still oppressed, but it's just presented differently.

  • JMac | August 10, 2011 10:45 AMReply

    Awwwww snap!!!

  • sandra | August 10, 2011 10:36 AMReply

    You have my attention.

    I look forward to further details on this project. Perhaps a star-making role for Nicole Beharie...

  • Jug | August 10, 2011 9:43 AMReply

    This sounds really promising, because it explores slavery from a different angle. Everything wasn't Chicken George and hands gettin' chopped off in the yard.

    Oddly enough, this is the "B" storyline in DJANGO UNCHAINED LOL

    @Tambay-R u suuuuurrre you're kidding??? LMAO

  • BluTopaz | August 10, 2011 9:31 AMReply

    I read the synopsis to Wench a few months ago and was very intrigued. The evil inflicted upon these women can't be forgotten imo, but I understand if some people are fatigued by the stories dealing with oppression. But it took a BLACK woman writer (hear that Kathryn Stockett and her defenders?) to accurately research and write about this one aspect of our history we never hear about. Doesn't sound like there are any White ingenues to focus on so I'm happy for Ms. Perkins-Valdez. And i agree with the filmmaker and casting suggestions.

  • urbanauteur | August 10, 2011 9:11 AMReply

    @Kia, we must face the past in order to forged the future, in a african word- SANKOFA...!

  • Kia | August 10, 2011 8:56 AMReply

    I'm sorry guys, it sounds intriguing but you lost me at the word slave. I'm tired of these kinds of flicks... She's a slave and a strong woman to boot. Yes, I know it should be about the "story", but enough already. Can I just see a strong black lead character set in modern times? I know thousands of them.

  • tambay | August 10, 2011 8:43 AMReply

    Hate to burst your bubble guys, but I hear Tyler Perry will probably direct with Beyonce, Rihanna, Alicia Keys and Halle Berry for the leads.

    I'm kidding... :)

  • Mecca | August 10, 2011 8:40 AMReply

    Ignore the typos I type fast sometimes.

  • Mecca | August 10, 2011 8:35 AMReply

    A friend of mine read the book and recommended it to me and said, it was superb! So, I think I am gonna check it out too! I agree with urbanaueur, it has Kasi Lemmons, or even Julie Dash, Gina Prince-Blythewood or Darnell Martin (Their Eyes Were Watching God) would do an outstanding job at directing this adaptation.

  • Cynthia | August 10, 2011 8:23 AMReply

    Interesting. I'll have to add this to my list.

  • urbanauteur | August 10, 2011 8:09 AMReply

    This has director- Kasi Lemmons, written all over it.

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