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Donovan Marsh ('iNumber Number') Will Write & Direct Adaptation Of S. African Sci-Fi Novel 'Zoo City'

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by Emmanuel Akitobi
November 12, 2013 2:18 PM
5 Comments
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In late 2011, after winning several literary awards and garnering global acclaim for its clever originality, South African author Lauren Beukes' science-fiction novel, Zoo City, saw its film rights awarded to producer Helena Spring (Red Dust, Yesterday, The First Grader), a fellow South African.


2 years later, in an interview with Smart Monkey TV, published yesterday, Donovan Marshwhose South African crime drama iNumber Number was just optioned by Universal Pictures for a Hollywood remake, reveals that he's attached to write and direct the film adaptation of Zoo City.

Zoo City's story revolves around a character named Zinzi December, a black South African woman.

Here's the book's official synopsis:

Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons. Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow. Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, provides more details about Zoo City's story... but ONLY IF you don't mind potential spoilers!

Marsh doesn't give details on when the film adaptation will happen, but with author Lauren Beukes being *hot* at the moment (Leonardo DiCaprio recently optioned another of her novels, The Shining Girls), and with director Marsh's iNumber Number getting Hollywood's attention, which only helps elevate his profile, all of that could help push the Zoo City adaptation forward faster than it's seemingly moved in the last 2 years since it was first announced.

Before fans of the Johannesburg-set novel fret at the idea of a film version missing the mark when it comes to capturing the essence of the original story, they should know that Beukes does not intend to let that happen.

Speaking to Mail & Guardian 2 years ago, Beukes discussed her plan for keeping the film true to its novel roots, and why she decided to award Spring the film rights:

Were you looking for any specific qualities in the producer or production house that would take it on?

Someone who got it, who didn't want to switch it to New Orleans, re-cast Zinzi as white (because filmgoers apparently can't handle seeing black people in lead roles on screen, unless its Will Smith), someone who would let me take first shot at the script, working with an experienced script editor.

Tell me a bit about the process that led to Helena Spring being awarded rights to the piece?

We had a lot of interest from overseas producers, but I had the best feeling from Helena and another fantastic local producer who were both committed to doing it in South Africa and doing it right. It came down to a joint decision between me, my agent, my publisher Angry Robot, who hold the film rights, and their agent as to who was best positioned to make this happen in the best possible way.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how this film turns out. South Africa has an incredible pool of talented actors, so the casting of this film will really be interesting to watch unfold. For the lead role of Zinzi December, I'm thinking Moshidi Motshegwa, Terry Pheto, or Mmabatho Montsho.

Watch Marsh's interview with Smart Monkey TV during which he talks Zoo City and iNumber Number.

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5 Comments

  • Demosthenes | January 13, 2014 5:47 AMReply

    Incidentally, I'm really curious to know who the active party is in the sentence "Have a white person tell the stories of other people". Who exactly do you believe is orchestrating this? Writers get things done on their own by sweat, blood and tears. No one is "having" her do it for them.

  • MALCOLMX | November 12, 2013 11:37 PMReply

    Good point OTHER SONG, also, there are black directors writing and directing Science fiction films in America like the film, Cybornetics: Urban Cyborg, that get no articles in Shadow & Act.

  • other song | November 12, 2013 11:23 PMReply

    White South African writes story about Black South African. Unless this novel is incredible, I'm gonna pass. That's the new diversity trick isn't it? Have a White person tell the stories of other people and get props so other people feel represented but said other people can't tell it themselves.

  • Winston | July 28, 2014 10:50 AM

    How many black South Africans do you know who have animals strapped to their backs as punishment? This is FICTION. So, Beukes is not telling "their" stories. She's telling a story, and happens to feel that it's OK to describe her characters as black Africans. If she didn't have diversity in her Africa-set stories, it would seem odd, no?

  • Demosthenes | January 13, 2014 5:44 AM

    Nobody is stopping them from telling it themselves. Writing good South African stories that travel well in other markets is hard. Kudos to anyone who gets it right. If you believe you should only write stories about your own race group you suffer from a failure of the imagination which Beukes thankfully does not suffer from.

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