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Idris Elba & Oprah Winfrey Reportedly In Talks To Join Forest Whitaker In 'The Shack'

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 25, 2014 1:08 PM
8 Comments
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Idris Elba and Oprah Winfrey have reportedly been offered lead roles in Forest Whitaker's adaptation of the best-selling novel The Shack, which he will both direct and star in.


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 the 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.

But the novel is on my to-read list, now that Forest Whitaker is attached to both star in and direct the film adaptation of it, with the potential for Idris Elba and Oprah Winfrey to join him. I'd assume that Oprah has been offered the "God as a black woman" role. But no word on what role idris might be eyeing.

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 religious film material, so I haven't been in any 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, especially since it's a novel that's apparently been flying off the shelves since it was published! 

You can pick up a copy HERE.

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8 Comments

  • Bart Breen | May 1, 2014 10:16 AMReply

    William Paul Young, (he goes by Paul by those who know him) was a child of missionaries and raised in a native community where his parents ministered. He grew up identifying more with non-white culture and influences. He's stated in other settings that his image of God as a black woman was modeled in part from a black woman he knew in a primarily white church were he once made the comment to her that she and he were the only black people there.

    The character of Papa has taken heat from many directions; the most obvious being that many traditional Christians object to God being portrayed as a woman of any race but there has also been some criticism from the black community that the character of Papa looks like a stereotypical form of "Aunt Jemima".

    The dialogue continual reinforced this in some people's minds.

    The Trinity is portrayed as God, "Papa" an african american woman, Jesus, a Middle Eastern man and Carpenter, and then Sarayu, an Asian woman as the Holy Spirit. Sarayu is a Hindi word which means "wind" and critics of the book (religious conservatives) also cried foul at the use of a woman in that context as well.

    The racial themes are not primary in the book other than a point of contrast with the comfortable icons of traditional, conservative evangelical Christianity which is Paul Young's original background as well but which he was never completely comfortable with growing up as an "outsider."

    The book is primarily a parable of Young's life and coming out of his own personal issues of childhood sexual abuse, impersonal theology and then his own own failures as a Christian and Husband and Father to his wife and 6 children. He originally wrote the book for private publication only to his family as an explanation of how he now sees God and how he thinks after a rigorous course of personal examination, counseling and therapy. It's served as a stirring story for many who aren't aware of the underlying themes and story and outwardly addresses hard questions, most specifically how a loving God can permit evil in the world. For others the book has proven therapeutic and also opened eyes to other forms of theology within the Christian tradition that have been eclipsed and lost in many conservative Christian evangelical circles within the US.

  • Will McNair | April 28, 2014 2:55 PMReply

    I came across this book back in 2008/9 and loved it immediately!! To answer your God-as-a-Black-woman question...it's mentioned once, when Mack first meets God; but that's pretty much it. The subject of her race, or that of the Holy Spirit (an Asian woman), is never broached beyond that; for there is a greater story to tell beyond what the Holy Trinity looks like.

    I, too, like another commenter, read Mack as an older White gentleman; so seeing Forest Whitaker in this role will take some getting used to for me. I can see Oprah doing the God character justice. Not sure who Idris would play; as the character of Jesus is described, if memory serves, as Middle Easter or Spanish. But...creative license, yada, yada, yada.

    Either way...I'm incredibly excited that this book is coming to the big screen! :-)

  • Miles Ellison | April 25, 2014 11:09 PMReply

    There are some people who will never forgive any white person who makes Jesus and God look like anything other than 70's heavy metal guitarists. Making God a jolly black woman will bring the internet hate down like plagues of locusts.

  • NO BRAINER | April 25, 2014 9:54 PMReply

    It's articles like this that made me forget this blog existed for a while. This story doesn't sound interesting at all. Forest Whitaker to direct? Really? Smdh.

  • JohnFusco? | April 25, 2014 4:16 PMReply

    Really though? They couldn't find someone else to adapt this?

  • Africameleon | April 25, 2014 3:00 PMReply

    LOVE this book! This is exciting news. Thank you.

  • Africameleon | April 25, 2014 3:20 PM

    PS: God is given prominence in Mack's healing process, but Mack actually encounters "the trinity" in the form of a jolly Black woman as God, a sprite-lick and airy-ethereal (small) Asian woman as the Holy Spirit, and an average height, average build, non-extraordinary, middle eastern (Arabic) man as the Son (Jesus, the carpenter). Readers are disarmed with this reveal. Even though the Black woman and Asian woman's descriptions could be theorized as stereotypical, one should read the book from cover to cover first. While reading the book I imagined Mack as white because... Black people don't do camping - do they?... I'm only half joking.

    I'm a southern Black woman, and I've only been fishing and would love to go camping if only I were allergy free - but I digress.

    It doesn't say if Elba or Whitaker will have the lead role, but I think it's a good move. Who ever takes the lead role has to be an emotional power house. I can't wait to see the finished product.

  • Tracey | April 25, 2014 1:21 PMReply

    From my recollection, the "blackness" of God isn't really an issue. I remember the main character mentioning it, but after the initial meeting of God, it isn't brought up again. I read this about 3 years ago, so my memory of the particulars of God being black may be escaping me. The book, however, is FANTASTIC! Highly, highly recommend it, even for those who are not religious/spiritual. I think it gives such an awesome look into, "what if we met God" question. The imagery in the book was captivating. I read the book in two days and could've read it in one, but I re-read so many passages because it was truly such a thought-provoking book.

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