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

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by Tambay A. Obenson
January 30, 2014 3:19 PM
12 Comments
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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.
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12 Comments

  • Renee | August 26, 2014 9:29 PMReply

    I brought the tape, and have sent it to at least a dozen people. I personally have heard it at least 5 times and it is always takes me into a deeper meaning. I sincerely hope that Forest will stay to the the novel and not change a thing...the impact is too important.

  • Aimee Bartlet | August 6, 2014 1:52 PMReply

    I LOVE this book. I can read it over and over and never get tired of it. I cant wait until its out in movie

  • Fancy | July 26, 2014 5:41 PMReply

    This was a FANTASTIC book and story!! I am a very slow reader who has a very busy schedule, but I finally finished it. I hope Forest Whitaker does decide to make this a movie. It probably will not be a big money maker because it doesn't have tons of violence and no sex, however I feel we need more stories like this shown at the theaters!!! And Forest would make a fabulous 'Papa'

  • Stevie | July 25, 2014 7:00 PMReply

    It has nothing to do with God appearing as a black woman (even though that is what everyone picks up on and is immediately infatuated with), God can appear however he/she wants to appear depending on circumstance.

  • Crystal | July 14, 2014 2:18 PMReply

    I am not a strong Christian, however I am an avid reader. I have read this book twice now, and both times I was brought to weeping tears because of it's incredible ability to break down stereotypes and create relationship. It's amazing and Papa stole my heart, she will steal yours too.

  • Nikki | May 27, 2014 11:10 AMReply

    This book was definitly an EYE OPENER for me! I am a strong Christian woman but this book broke some of the preconceived molds that I thought had to happen in order to be a Christian. God doesn't care about your past, God doesn't care about your present, God just wants to love on us and in turn find our love for Him.
    I didn't even think about people who have been hurt and maybe didn't have a relationship with God and how they might be angry with Him but not as much Jesus. See, we may not admit it but most everyone knows deep down what Jesus done for us on the cross. We may not be angry with Jesus because He done so much for us. But when someone has went through a horrible experience our anger has to be placed on someone and in most cases we put it on God. We look at Him as the one who done it to us. This book helped me see that God has the nails on His hands just like Jesus and that is awesome! Please read this book! My mom gave it to me to read and she isn't a Christian. She loved it. I know without a doubt that the book planted a seed in her heart and with that seed God will continue to grow it until it's a beautiful garden!

  • IMANI | March 6, 2014 8:53 AMReply

    The strength of The Shack is that is throws away the preconceptions and stereotypes to illustrate the essence of biblical truths. Hence, its controversy. God as an African American woman is significant because God can appear to us has God wants us to experience God. (I carefully do not use any pronouns!) So it is better to ask the question why was this important to the lead character Mackenzie? In dealing with the loss of his daughter, what issues did he need to confront and why was this best managed God in this form. It helped him to rethink all the things which were troubling him. So yes, The Shack is built upon a Christian foundation but it allows you to travel the journey with new eyes. You from it, what you bring to it. Mr Whitaker has a tremendous task.

  • Edwun | January 31, 2014 9:24 PMReply

    I thought everyone pictured God this way. Even so, you'll find it's symbolism correlates well. Don't think of it as a Christian book and you'll discover treasure and amazing life revelations.

  • SAVANNAH MORGAN | January 31, 2014 11:32 AMReply

    Wendy, you sound like everyone I know whose read the book! "Definitely a page turner", "deeply moving", were some of the comments I heard as friends admonished me to read this book. Definitely looking forward to the movie. Had no idea God was tantamount to an African-American woman though... tread lightly Forest.

  • Aaron | January 31, 2014 7:32 AMReply

    As long as Mr. Whitaker isn't going to go all Madea in this film and play the "Jolly African American Woman" then I will keep an eye out for it. Besides God is a Black Woman anyway and always has been if you research the history of the original people.

  • Wendy | January 31, 2014 5:50 AMReply

    Move it to the top of your 'to-read-list' and READ THE BOOK! It is one of the most life-changing books I have ever read. Yes, portraying God (the Father) as a jolly, African-American woman does turn one's preconceptions upside down and inside out, which is good! I believe her personality is what we are intended to focus on in order to gain insight into a very really aspect of God's personality that so many of us miss completely. However, the 'jolly, African-American woman is not the only personification of God that is used in the book, just one, and all are intended to reveal God's personality and character. I look forward to a film of The Shack - provided it sticks as closely as possible to the book. Maybe Forest Whitaker intends to play the jolly, African-American woman - that would be interesting!

  • Nathan | January 30, 2014 6:35 PMReply

    For those who haven't read it, long-standing notions of who God "is" are flipped upside down. Whitaker will undoubtedly bring a unique interpretation to The Shack. It’s great to see an interesting writing/directorial choice for a film adaptation many have been waiting for a long time. Good for him — and I hope the DP choice is just as interesting.

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