It is quite the coincidence that on the day I finish Marlon James’ Black Leopard Red Wolf the news is announced that Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society signs an exclusive deal with Amazon Studios!
As some may know, Michael B. Jordan purchased the rights to the first installment of James’ Dark Star Trilogy back in 2019 one day after the book was published! By the terms of this deal, should the book be adapted into a series, its home is confirmed to be Amazon’s streaming service.
Amazon is home to some critic and fan hits such as The Marvelous Miss Mazel, The Boys, and Fleabag. The question is, would a fantasy fiction novel such as Black Leopard Red Wolf fit into the streaming service and if so, how would it be adapted for the visual medium?
1: Unapologetically LGBT: Those who have read the novel, if you pushed on through the unique pacing within the first hundred pages, know that this is one of the best depictions of LGBTQ characters in fiction ever.
How do I mean?
Well, from the beginning we are introduced to our protagonist, (of this installment) Tracker, who struggles within himself and his community with his position and definition as a man; the idea of circumcision and its spiritual correlation with the femininity within oneself. From there we are seamlessly introduced to his feelings for Kava, the sexual desires of the shapeshifting Leopard, and the romance between himself and Mossi.
The book treats its characters, its magic, and its sexual depictions beautifully as matter-of-fact; something that I have rarely seen in works of fiction and much less in the fantasy genre. It is all the layers, nuances, contradictions, and ugly parts of Tracker’s personality that he is allowed in the book, as a character who happens to be gay, that make him so special; he avoides the cliche tropes of “the gay character” as does the passionate and raw Leopard.
All of these things are strenghts in my eyes! Yet I wonder if a studio will truly allow this story to be all that it is…
Yes, characters that are LGBTQ have been appearing more throughout media but they have been constant supporting characters, characters that can be easily erased to satisfy the homphobia of international markets, or if they are center stage it is for a story all about the journey of their self acceptance; in other words their identity is exclusively their sexual orientation.
Black Leopard Red Wolf flips the finger at all of that. Will the studio?
2: Will it be THAT Raw?: While on the subject of decpicting homosexual relationships within the story of this book we have to be clear about how graphic it is regarding sexuality. Yes, intense sexual scenes on television are nothing new but when it comes to nudity on screen such “honors” are usually reserved for female characters. Some might recall the Game of Thrones debate over gratutious female nudity where there was hardly any from male actors. How did the show finally respond? A comedic and clinical depiction of a theater performer’s genitals.
This won’t fly with a story like Black Leopard Red Wolf IF the goal is to truly honor the source material.
Leopard is a literal animal that takes intense joy in his simplistic life of roaming, eating, sleeping, and you guessed it, sex.
Tracker’s story takes him from places of reflection on his physical manhood, to sexual assault, to passionate romantic love with another man, and encounters with other characters where clinical male nudity is common, the norm, and even correlates to plot!
In a world of television where the double standard of male vs female nudity is very much alive, will production break the mold and the (ridiculous) taboo of male frontal nudity on screen? Will these characters truly be allowed to depict the physical and verbal truth of their preferences while also being powerful heroes?
3: Groundbreaking Fantasy: Now, don’t be mistaken, the story is not just a beautiful story of gay love. Marlon James has created a fantasy world that is rich in lore. The shapeshifting Leopard, the river spirit Bunshi, the massive power of the Ogo, the wonder of the Ipundulu, the unique lives of the mingi, the horrors of Sasabonsam, the magnificent power of the Moon Witch, and SO MUCH more! This book is stuffed with a fellowship on a mission where each is a unique and attention-grabbing character in their own right… Except Fumeli. Can’t stand him.
The rules of magic in this world are often vague but it serves as a tremendous piece of the intrigue to want to visit places like Mweru, Ku, Kongor, and Dolingo in live-action.
The pages of the book stir the imagination and it makes one wonder with the right set design, costume design, music, make-up, and special effects? This could be an outstanding hit unlike anything seen before on television.
4:Structure of the Story: Now we have our biggest issue… The story structure. I finished the novel DESPERATE to read more only to learn that the triology is not based on a linear tale. No.
The second installment is indeed the same story told from the perspective of the 300 year old Sogolon for Moon Witch, Night Devil.
Essentially, we are lead to believe that the accounts told to us in this novel from the perspective of Tracker may not all be truth! Especially as they relate to his interactions with Sogolon the witch.
The next installment will certainly dive deeper into her life, her experiences, and the gaps in time where she was not personally with Tracker.
This raises questions; will the series try and adapt the books simultaneously or will each season adapt each book where the following will be the same scenes with altered events to fit the narrators version of the story?
I must admit, though I am eager to read the sequel book I don’t know if the latter is a good fit for the visual medium.
The purpose of the trilogy (one supposes) is to find out who is responsible for the death of the disputed would-be child king. Would the series just depict the events as they really happened and show it all in chronological order over the span of several seasons? It’s a tricky situation from a narrative standpoint and may require the showrunners to take serious liberties on how they tell their version of the story.
5: The Rest?!: One thing that I find horribly upsetting about the novel is the juicy foreshadowing the Aesi provides at the end. He tells the witch, “A threat is coming, and not from the south, or north, or even east, but the west. A threat of fire and dsease and death and rot coming from across the sea…men red like blood and white like sand…”
…Does he mean colonization? Is it something else? Is this threat correlated with the third installment, The Boy and the Dark Star? So many questions!
Overall, I just don’t believe that breaking the series up book for book is the best bet for a live-action adaptation.
Moon Witch, Night Devil is set to release some time this year. Hopefully once we get the chance to read the pages we will gain more information on how this wonderful fantasy world will come to life.