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Forest Whitaker Will Star In & Direct 'The Shack' (God As A 'Jolly African American Woman?')

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 30, 2014 at 3:19PM

Forest Whitaker Will Star In & Direct 'The Shack' (God As A 'Jolly African American Woman?')
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Forest Whitaker

The already busy Forest Whitaker adds to his already loaded slate with Lionsgate’s adaptation of best-selling novel The Shack, which he will both direct and star in!


This news comes after yesterday's revelation that Whitaker is in talks to join Liam Neeson in Taken 3.

The Shack

Summit Entertainment picked up film adaptation rights to William Paul Young's novel The Shack, a year ago, which is to be to be adapted to script by John Fusco, produced by Gill Netter and Brad Cummings

The story follows a character named Mackenzie Allen Philips who, after suffering a devastating personal tragedy, receives a mysterious note from God in his mailbox inviting him to a place called The Shack. He visits the shack where he actually does meet God, which begins a life-transforming journey of redemption. 

The book was published in 2007 and went on to become a global bestseller, selling over 18 million copies in 39 languages.

Long-time readers of this blog will remember that, way back in 2008, I profiled this novel, after I stumbled across a write-up for it, while skimming through archived pages of the New York Times online. I was immediately drawn to it when I saw the headline which read, "Eckhart Tolle may have Oprah Winfrey, but “The Shack” has people like Caleb Nowak.

Usually anything with Oprah's name included will get my attention, especially when I'm not looking for anything with Oprah's name included.

So I clicked on through, scrolling down, skimming the article to see if there was any other mention of Oprah in it, or if she had any further connection to the novel; and while there wasn't anything else said of her, I did came across a paragraph that said this: "Mr. Nowak, a maintenance worker near Yakima, Wash., first bought a copy of “The Shack,” a slim paperback novel by an unknown author about a grieving father who meets God in the form of a jolly African American woman, at a Borders bookstore in March..."

Needless to say, I kept reading to learn more about this novel, which I'd never heard of, even though the New York Times write-up said that it was fast-becoming a best seller at the time!

A longer breakdown of the book, which gives a little more about its story, via its sales page on Amazon, describes The Shack as:

... a Christian-themed novel about a character by the name of Mackenzie Allen Philips, whose youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and may have been brutally murdered. Four years later, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God (the above-mentioned jolly African American woman), inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever. You'll want everyone you know to read this book! 

The author, William P. Young, a 54-year old white man by the way, said in the New York Times article, he chose to make God an African American woman because he wanted to alter religious preconceptions, stating, "It was just a way of saying: ‘You know what? I don’t believe that God is Gandalf with an attitude, or Zeus who wants to blast you with any imperfection that you exhibit.’"

The article also said, even people initially put off by the book’s characterization of God as a black woman, were won over!

After reading the entire piece (I still haven't read the book), I thought about how many times I'd seen or heard God portrayed as an African American woman in any previous films, but I couldn't immediately think of any.

I'll push up the novel on my to-read list, now that Forest Whitaker is attached to both star in and direct the film adaptation of it. 

Although while I was intrigued by the author's choice to have God be a black woman, I'm not really the target audience for Christian-themed material, so I haven't been in rush to read it. 

If you've read the novel, please chime in and enlighten the rest of us. I'm curious as to how the author incorporates the woman's "blackness" into his portrayal of God (don't forget the "jolly" part), especially since it's a novel that's apparently been flying off the shelves since it was published! 

No word yet on whether the film adaptation will stay true to the novel and God will also be depicted as a "jolly" African American woman.

You can pick up a copy HERE.

Whitaker has been very busy over the last 12 months, from starring in Lee Daniels' The Butler, to Kasi Lemmons' Black Nativity, producing Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale, and more. Look for him next in Oscar-nominated Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb's La voie de l‘ennemi, which translates to English as Towards The Enemy; and in the upcoming psychological thriller, Repentance (previously titled Vipaka), which Lionsgate/Codeblack will release on February 282014.

This article is related to: Forest Whitaker


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