God As A 'Jolly African American Woman?' Summit Picks Up Film Rights To 'The Shack'

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 22, 2013 2:05 PM
4 Comments
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Summit Entertainment has picked up film adaptation rights to William Paul Young's novel The Shack, 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.

I mention this project here because, way back in 2008, I actually first stumbled across a write-up for the novel, while skimming through archived pages of the New York Times online. I was immediately drawn to it after seeing 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 attached.

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, the article had my attention after that, and 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 53-year old white man by the way, said in the New York Times article, he chose to make God an African American woman (don't forget the 'jolly' part) 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 write-up (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 with anything.

I'll push up the novel on my to-read list. 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 wasn't in rush to read it. 

Although, maybe it's just me, but the "jolly" part, an inclusion I still don't quite understand, immediately makes me think of some stock Mammy-like character. 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, 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.

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4 Comments

  • Cynthia | January 31, 2014 7:11 PMReply

    "The Shack" is something one must ingest and digest individually. What it meant to me does not mean it will mean that to you. As for God being portrayed as a black woman, I too was shocked and literally breathed in a gasp, but Mr. Young reveals the reason in the book. I gave away 17 copies, including my personal copy. I read it three times and still want to get another copy. Even a statement in the preface grabbed me with a gasp. To me, the beginning was somewhat slow but then it took off and never stopped. I would read one chapter at a time and chew on it for a day or so. With all that being said, go on and read the book. You might be pleasantly surprised how much you will enjoy and appreciate what it reveals.

  • Aaron | April 23, 2013 8:38 AMReply

    So this will be about God helping someone out and this Deity will be played by a Black Woman(the original god of all beings in the first place). Magic Negro anyone?

  • Joan | April 22, 2013 11:58 PMReply

    Why couldn't OPRAH play the role? I loved the book. GOD is displayed in various roles not just an African American woman. It was a dramatic revelation for the protagonist in the story because of his cultural framework of white superiority.

  • Cordell | April 22, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    Well if casting stays true to the book Queen Latifah or Octavia Spencer will be fighting for that role!

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