As someone who’s very big on speculative fiction especially when it comes to black storytelling on film and television, I just want to express how excited I am by all the new work that’s coming that’s been announced in the last year alone. I’ve been a reader of Shadow and Act for about 5 years and I’m always thrilled when I read about black filmmakers attempting genres like sci-fi, fantasy and horror. There’s just not nearly enough of that kind of cinema and TV by black filmmakers and/or with black casts, especially at the highest levels, with top notch directing, acting and visual effects. And I for one am so pleased by what feels like a new (or maybe renewed) enthusiasm for black genre filmmaking like we haven’t really seen before, except maybe during the Blaxploitation period with all those terrible knock-offs of movies originally made with white casts, and each had “Black” in front of it, like “Blacula,” “Blackenstein,” or “The Black Godfather” to name a few. Although they weren’t all bad. I enjoyed and still do enjoy some of those movies.
But it doesn’t feel like the excitement that should be there for this new rush of films and TV shows by and/or about black people in fantastical genres, has really taken hold. I read this site daily and it sometimes feels like the commenters tend to focus a whole lot more energy and time on the posts about the stuff we don’t want to see, than on the kind of projects that we do want to see. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? So I asked Tambay if I could write this to just remind everyone, especially the sci-fi and fantasy geeks like me, to take a pause and appreciate some of the really interesting stuff that we’ve got coming, and that we should be getting very excited about. At least, I’m very excited about each of them and can’t wait to see what each one brings.
So here’s a list of what’s been announced in the last year alone. It’s not a complete list but there’s a lot here to prove the point I’m trying to make. These are all projects that were written about on Shadow and Act. Each comes with a link that will take you to the full details on each project:
1 – Fox 2000 has acquired 23-year-old author Tomi Adeyemi’s debut YA (Young Adult) West African fantasy novel “Children of Blood and Bone,” which is the first in what will be a trilogy. Adeyemi’s “Children of Blood and Bone” – which hasn’t been published yet – must have serious potential and impressed both Fox brass and Macmillan Publishing immensely, as the deal with Fox is said to be in the seven-figures; also reportedly whopping is the author’s publishing deal with Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – one of the biggest YA debut novel publishing deals ever. Described as “‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ meets Black Lives Matter,” what we know of the story thus far is minimal: With magic, Zélie’s family could stand against the royal guard. Her people wouldn’t live in fear. Her mom wouldn’t have hanged from that tree. Years after the king wiped magic out of Orïsha, Zélie has one chance to bring it back. To do so, she’ll have to outwit/outrun the crown prince, who’s hell-bent on erasing magic for good.
2 – Included in the line-up of the Directors’ Fortnight (French: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs) section held in parallel to the Cannes Film Festival – is “I Am Not a Witch,” the debut feature film from BAFTA-nominated Zambian-Welsh filmmaker Rungano Nyoni. Nyoni’s feature debut follows the misfortunes of a 9-year-old girl named Shula, who is exiled from her village following a relatively minor incident, and stumbles across the camp of a travelling group of witches. The film is described as a present-day fantasy satire about beliefs in witchcraft, revolving around Shula, who is accused of being a witch. Shula is the first child to be taken to a travelling witch camp, where she is tethered to a spool with a ribbon. She is told that should she cut the ribbon and attempt to escape, she will be cursed and transformed into a goat. Over time, Shula begins to long for freedom. Forced to decide whether to accept her fate as a witch, Shula ignites a rebellion within the camp.
3 – Blumhouse Productions, the company behind Jordan Peele’s horror film “Get Out,” has now put its horror movie-making muscle behind “Sleight” director J.D. Dillard’s follow-up, “Sweetheart,” and has tapped Kiersey Clemons to star. Plot details are being kept underwraps for now, except for mention of the project’s sub-genre – survival-horror. Dillard will direct from a script he co-wrote with his “Sleight” writing partner Alex Theurer, as well Alex Hyner. All 3 will also produce along with Jason Blum and Bill Karesh of Blumhouse. Production on “Sweetheart” is being fast-track for a Spring 2017 start date.
4 – Acclaimed writer-director R. Shanea Williams is making the leap from shorts to feature films. She is in the early stages of writing and developing her first feature. “I am truly tremendously excited to bring this new vision to the screen,” Williams said. “I believe this project will be a bold step forward in genre-filmmaking centering black women protagonists and I could not be prouder to make this my first feature-length film. I’m attempting to defy genre with this feature. The best way to describe it is probably as a psychological horror-thriller. But it will be so much more.” Williams recently completed the short film “Paralysis,” starring Nia Fairweather and Nedra McClyde. The film won Best Screenplay at the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival and Best Actress in a Short at the Las Vegas Black Film Fest. She also directed the short film “Contamination,” which was nominated for Best Short Film at the 2014 HBO/BET Urbanworld Film Festival and won Williams the Rising Star Award at the Richmond International Film Festival.
5 – Maybe getting lost in all the excitement over “Get Out” is JD Dillard’s feature debut, “Sleight,” which was picked up by WWE Studios and Blumhouse Productions (the producers of “Get Out”) after its 2016 Sundance Film Festival premiere, before the phenomenon known as “Get Out” opened in theaters. Now that it has, performing extraordinarily well, Blumhouse can certainly be expected to exploit its success to help market “Sleight,” another genre busting film made on the cheap, with a black lead, whose Sundance debut was met with generally favorable reviews (as of today, it has a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Blumhouse and WWE Studios have set an April 28 theatrical premiere for “Sleight,” a dramatic thriller that blends science fiction and “street magic” in a tale set in Los Angeles, starring Jacob Latimore as Bo, a young street magician struggling to take care of his little sister in the wake of his mother’s death. After he gets in too deep to make ends meet, Bo finds he has to turn to magic to save his family and himself from unimaginable danger.
6 – Nicholas Attin, who hails from Trinidad & Tobago, has been hard at work on his next feature film – a science fiction thriller (a genre rarity when it comes to cinema of the Caribbean), titled “Tomb,” for which he’s writer, producer, and director. The film’s synopsis reads: On the 10th of September in the year 2025 several nations around the world join together for the largest expedition into the furthest regions of deep space. They share a common mission to discover a new way of life for all mankind. This mass galactic exodus is spearheaded by Proselyte Global, a world corporate entity responsible for the design of a special artificial intelligence on board each country’s starship. Commander Nelson Obatala and Commander Charles Mercer are two astronauts representing Trinidad and Tobago. They individually pilot two human inclusive deep space probes. During the long voyage what was expected to be six months of hyper sleep turns out to be much longer for Obatala. His vessel is ordered to change its course and respond to a distress beacon sent out by Mercer whose ship’s course had been mysteriously altered. Now separated from his wife and baby daughter for much longer than anticipated, Obatala must risk the success of his mission and the family he loves to find and rescue his dear friend and fellow countryman. The love for his wife and child may help him cope with the loneliness of space; his training may help him survive even giant rogue asteroids; but nothing could prepare anyone for the awesome unknown of a wormhole! Only on the other side will he truly come face to face with destiny.
7 – Julius Onah’s sci-fi thriller “God Particle,” which J.J. Abrams is producing, with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and David Oyelowo attached to star, will apparently be the latest in the “Cloverfield” franchise/universe. Said to have been one of Hollywood’s most buzzed-about “open directing assignments” (partly because there had been lots of secrecy around it, and J.J. Abrams had been attached to produce), the story (as we know it thus far) follows an American space station crew that’s abandoned after a problem with a Hadron accelerator causes Earth to completely vanish, challenging all they know about the fabric of reality, as they desperately fight for their survival. “God Particle” will be connected to the “Cloverfield” universe, as Abrams and studio partner Paramount Pictures plan to continue to develop even more projects within that universe, released annually – at least until the exhaust it.
8 – Much about the “Black Panther” feature film, directed by Ryan Coogler, has been wrapped in secrecy; beyond the previously-announced cast, we don’t really know much else. The movie is currently in post-production with a February 2018 release date scheduled; we expect that Comic-Con attendees this summer will likely get a tease of the upcoming movie. No need to expand on this because we all know about this one very well and are looking forward to it.
9 – Amandla Stenberg has become a much-wanted actress, booking a handful of high profile studio projects in the last year alone – and just about all of them are headlining roles, including a film adaptation of YA sci-fi dystopian novel “The Darkest Minds” by author Alexandra Bracken, which is currently set up at Fox studios, with Jennifer Yuh Nelson directing. The story: When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control. Now sixteen-years-old, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her: East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.
10 – With Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” pushing towards $200 million in global box office; JD Dillard’s feature debut, the sci-fi action-adventure “Sleight” set to open on April 28; and Dillard’s “Sleight” follow-up, a horror movie titled “Sweetheart,” which actress Kiersey Clemons is attached to, in pre-production, the company behind all 3 of those projects, Blumhouse, is now getting into the David Oyelowo business with a time-travel thriller titled “Only You,” which will be directed by Jacob Estes (“Mean Creek”) from his own script. Story specifics on “Only You” are currently being kept under wraps, beyond what is revealed above. Oyelowo is attached to star in “Only You” as well as executive produce with Couper Samuelson, Jeanette Volturno and Jay Martin; and Jason Blum of Blumhouse is producing.
11 – Up next for One Fine Day Films is the Kenyan fantasy-drama “Kati Kati,” a film that won the Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery program at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Directed by Mbithi Masya, from a script written by Masya and Mugambi Nthiga, “Kati Kati” centers on a young woman with no memory of her life or death, who is helped with assimilation to the afterlife by a ghost. Synopsis: When Kaleche, a young amnesiac, wakes up in the middle of the wilderness, she has no idea how she got there. She makes her way to Kati Kati, a nearby lodge, where she meets a motley crew of residents under the leadership of Thoma. As Kaleche strikes up a quick and intense friendship with him, she discovers that there’s a lot more to Thoma and the mysterious Kati Kati.
12 – Ava DuVernay’s Disney studio adaptation of “A Wrinkle In Time” features an ensemble cast that includes Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which, Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit, Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who, Chris Pine as Mr. Murry, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Mrs. Murry, and rising star Storm Reid who is toplining this take on Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s book playing Meg Murry. The science/fantasy novel, first published in 1963, revolves around a young girl whose father, a government scientist, has gone missing after working on a mysterious project called a tesseract. Three celestial beings guide her, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him.
13 – Gugu Mbatha-Raw has added to her production slate, booking the starring in a dramatic thriller “Fast Color” which hails from “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz and “Jackie” producers Mickey Liddell and Pete Shilaimon. Julia Hart is attached to direct “Fast Color” from a screenplay she co-wrote with Horowitz. The intriguing tale centers on a woman (played by Mbatha-Raw) who is forced to go on the run when her superhuman abilities are discovered, eventually returning to the home and family she abandoned many years prior, where she hopes to be able to hide. No other plot details are available at this time.
14 – Sixteen-year-old Willow Smith is apparently easing her way back into acting, teaming up with Cartel Entertainment on 2 films that she may also star in. The first will be an adaptation of author Alwyn Hamilton’s fantasy-romance YA trilogy “Rebel of the Sands,” which both companies have acquired the rights to. Set in a mystical desert nation called Mirahin, “Sands” follows “a gun-slinging girl desperate to escape her past, and a handsome foreigner who harbors dangerous secrets,” according to PYRG. While it will be a trilogy, only the first and second books have been written and published so far (“Rebel of the Sands” and “Traitor to the Throne” which was published just last month); the final book will come eventually. The trilogy has been acquired as a potential starring vehicle for Willow Smith.
15 – I thought it’ll be fitting to include a documentary on black people in speculative fiction. Filmmaker M. Asli Dukan’s upcoming, much-anticipated, ambitious feature documentary titled “Invisible Universe: A History of Blackness in Speculative Fiction,” explores the relationship between African Diasporic images and popular fantasy, horror, science fiction literature and film, as well as the alternative perspectives produced by content creators of color. The documentary features interviews with major writers, scholars, artists and filmmakers and explores comics, television, film and literature by deconstructing stereotyped images of black people in the genres, revealing how black creators have been consciously creating their own universe.
16 – And there are many others. I didn’t even include upcoming TV series like the “Star Trek” reboot at CBS All Access which will star a black woman as the main character, played by Sonequa Martin-Green; Idris Elba in the adaptation of Stephen King’s fantasy series, “The Dark Tower”; Ricky Whittle, Yetide Badaki, and Orlando Jones in “American Gods”; there’s the Black Lightning TV series by the Akil team, and even a short film inspired by Black Lightning produced by Darkan Entertainment, both coming up; and several more.
So if you’re a speculative fiction fan, I hope you’re just as excited as I am about all these projects and I hope this is just the beginning, and that most of these do well enough that they will lead to even more so that we can finally stop asking where all the black fantasy, sci-fi, horror, thriller, films and TV shows are.
What are you most excited for, even if it’s not listed here? And feel free to add more titles that are not included. Maybe we can get a complete list going that we can pass around and infect other people with our excitement!