Novel Franchises Built Around Black Characters That Could Also Be Film Franchises
Photo Credit: S & A

Novel Franchises Built Around Black Characters That Could Also Be Film Franchises


With the recent reboot of the Alex Cross detective thriller series, based on the novel franchise written by James Patterson, which starred Tyler Perry in the title role, I thought I’d revisit an old post, but with a twist this time.

Previously, we discussed film franchises in film history that centered around characters of African descent. Needless to say, the pickings were (and still are) slim, because there just haven’t been that many. Narrow it down to film franchises akin to Alex Cross – black action heroes, for all intents and purposes – and the selection list gets even shorter, with franchise films featuring Shaft, Virgil Tibbs, and Axel Foley being the most prominent.

The question this time is to list potential film franchises based on the lives of characters of African descent, with novels being the source material, since Hollywood’s love affair with novel adaptations seems to only be intensifying – especially those in a series that have the potential to be film franchises, and hopefully box office triumphs (see The Hunger Games as a current example).

I can immediately think of one missed opportunity: Walter Mosley’s Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins series of detective novels. There was Devil In A Blue Dress which starred Denzel Washington – the first and only on-screen appearance of Rawlins, even though Mosley has featured the character in at least 10 novels.

And of course, Mosley has a few other titles that are part of a series that could get looks as well.

You’ll recall the announcement a couple of years ago that a TV series based on Mosley’s fictional African American private investigator Rawlins, was in the works for the NBC network; you’ll also remember that NBC later passed on it. 

As for the others… Mosley has a deal in place with HBO, for his Leonid McGill series – the New York City private investigator, starting with the first book in the series titled, The Long Fall.

When asked in an interview who his choice is for the starring role in the Leonid McGill series, guess who he named? Jeffrey Wright of course! Wouldn’t that be nice if that actually came to pass. 

There was also the TNT network’s ordering of a pilot for Mosley’s Fearless Jones series of novels, with plans for an eventual TV series.

Still no news of movement on any of those yet. 

But I’m most interested in big screen franchise film adaptations.

There was a potential movie franchise with Rawlins for Denzel. And the first (and only) film, directed by Carl Franklin, was actually very well received, and is still held in high regard today. It didn’t do blockbuster box office, but the critics loved it, and one could say that it’s become something of a “cult classic” over the years, as audiences who didn’t see it in theaters during its initial release, discovered it on home video.

But, sadly, apparently no film studio saw the potential the novel franchise had as a film franchise, and thus, Devil In A Blue Dress is the only Rawlins novel to be adapted to film. 

What other novel series/franchise are out there, as I hand the mic over to you folks to join the conversation…?

I’ve previously argued that the source material for the Alex Cross series is weak to begin with (in my opinion), and not worthy of big screen adaptations – that is, without some serious additional work done to beef up the story and characters. And I hope there isn’t a sequel, continuing with Tyler Perry as star, even though one was announced. I would’ve liked to see what Idris Elba could’ve done with the material.

But let’s give Hollywood some other ideas that they may be overlooking; Throw your 2 cents in for novel franchises/series centered around the lives of black characters (anywhere in the world) that could potentially be block-buster film franchises/series.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

© 2022 Shadow & Act. All rights reserved.