Sanaa Lathan, the seasoned actress who comes from a family entrenched in Black Hollywood, is adding director of a feature film to her resume.
This will be the second time Thomas’s work will have been adapted for the screen. Her young adult novel, The Hate U Give from 2019 was turned into a feature film the following year. This won’t be Lathan’s first foray behind the camera, either. Her short film Leap, which was shot during pandemic lockdown, will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
On the Come Up is another tale that features Black youth. It follows the story of 16-year-old Bri who aspires to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. But the obstacles in her life have the potential to keep her from realizing that dream. She’s been labeled a problem child at school and is struggling at home. Her mother losses her job and finds it difficult to provide for the household.
Check out these other best-selling Black books that transformed into blockbuster films.
Waiting To Exhale
Actor Forest Whittaker created a classic with his feature film directorial debut. Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale was a hit novel so it only made sense that it would do equally well at the box office. When Waiting To Exhale released in theaters in 1995, just three years after it published, there was plenty talk about the book and the film being a vehicle to bash Black men, though it as an empowerment film for Black women. The movie went on to gross over $81 million worldwide and became the 26th highest grossing film of that year.
Precious was a brilliant film based on the novel Push, and authored by Sapphire. The film is light work compared to reading the text. Push was author Sapphire’s debut novel. At the time of the book’s release, The New York Times, gave a mostly favorable review, calling it, “a novel that manages to be disturbing, affecting and manipulative all at the same time.”
It would take 13 years before it was turned into a film, directed by Lee Daniels. Geoffrey S. Fletcher wrote the screenplay and the film went on to win two Academy Awards; one went to comedian and actress Mo’Nique for her portrayal as Precious’s mother and the other went to Fletcher for translating the complex writing into a masterpiece that could be adapted on screen.
Denzel Washington is much-beloved as an actor, not only in the Black community but in the industry at large.You honestly can’t think of a poor performance from him. With so much success in front of the camera, Washington was sure to be as dope behind the camera as a director. That success was witnessed in the film Antwone Fisher. Washington acted alongside Derek Luke to tell the heartbreaking story of a Black man trying to heal from the childhood traumas he endured as a youth. It was a story beautifully told, likely because it was based on the real life of Antwone Quentin Fisher. Fisher then detailed his experiences in the 2001 memoir, Finding Fish.
12 Years A Slave
12 Years A Slave is a film about a free Black man forced into slavery. Like Antwone Fisher, it is based on a true story which made it that much more impactful. Solomon Northup wrote this narrative back in 1853. It was adapted for film in 2013. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won three, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress went to Lupita Nyong’o.
For Colored Girls
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf is technically a choreopoem written by the legendary Ntozake Shange in 1974. The work first premiered on stage in 1976 and was frequently performed in the theater space for decades afterward. At the time, it was only the second Black play in history to appear on Broadway after Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. In 2010, Tyler Perry would transform the play into a film, starring Anika Noni Rose, Janet Jackson, Kerry Washington, Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg and Loretta Devine, among others.
The Color Purple
The Color Purple is the crown jewel of Alice Walker’s writing career. The 1982 book won a Pulitzer Prize, making Walker the first Black woman to accomplish this feat. The book is deeply beloved. Still, there was skepticism about making a film centering around the lives of Black women. But in 1985, director Steven Spielberg took on the project. Walker had qualms about Spielberg being at the helm of her work, given he was he a white man, whose films were far from the subject matter detailed in The Color Purple. In the decades since the film has been released, she’s shared the she and Spielberg didn’t share the same vision for the film. Fortunately, though, audiences were able to see the intentionality behind Walker’s which resonates with audiences and Black women in particular.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written in 1965 by the late activist and Alex Haley, is a beautiful work that captures the life and transformation of Malcolm Little into Malcolm X. It was so well done that only someone as ballsy as director Spike Lee, would dream of turning it into a feature film. The making of the film could have gone terribly left and with financial constraints, it almost didn’t happen at all. With Denzel in the titular role and Angela Bassett by his side as Betty Shabazz, Black people were in awe. The movie is a bonafide classic. Released in 1992, Washington was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of this iconic man but was snubbed.
In 2010, the film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress as it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”