Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 19 2020 01:00PM

The past eighteen months have brought us a couple of made-for-the-small-screen Jane Austen spinoffs: the Lifetime movie Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta in June 2019 and the ITV/PBS series Sanditon, which began airing in the United States in January 2020, after premiering a few months earlier in Britain.

Notably, both shows aimed to expand Jane Austen’s mostly all-white world to include important characters of color (or, in the case of P&P: Atlanta, a virtually all-Black cast).

And now comes word of another project that updates Austen’s story to a far more diverse world: a planned HBO adaptation of Ibi Zoboi’s 2018 young-adult novel Pride, which sets P&P in gentrifying, multiracial contemporary Brooklyn. The project seems to be at an early stage, with a writer and producer on board but no word on casting.

Pride, which I thoroughly enjoyed, is by a Haitian-American writer who lives in Brooklyn, just like the novel’s seventeen-year-old protagonist, Zuri Benitez. Zuri is an aspiring writer who hopes to attend her dream college, Howard University, but plans to return to the noisy, close-knit neighborhood where her working-class Dominican-Haitian-American family lives.

When the affluent African-American Darcy family moves into the refurbished home across the street, Janae, the oldest of the five teenage Benitez sister, immediately falls for Ainsley, the oldest Darcy son. But Zuri takes a dislike to Ainsley’s younger brother, Darius, whom she pegs as a stuck-up and inauthentic bougie.

You pretty much know how it goes from here, although – as so often happens in Austen fanfic produced by genuinely accomplished writers – the most interesting bits of the story are those that abandon Austen’s template in favor of something more individual. In the case of Pride, that’s Zoboi’s evocation of the sights, sounds, and social codes of Zuri’s Bushwick, and her depiction of Zuri’s heartbreak over the unstoppable changes overtaking her beloved neighborhood, as gentrifiers like the Darcy family move in and rising real estate prices displace longtime residents.

Not exactly Austenian, but hey -- great fodder for a film. I’m on board!

By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 12 2018 02:00PM

This business of Austen trend-spotting is getting to be exhausting.

Barely four months ago, I noted that the two-decade-long craze for adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels seems to have inaugurated a more recent craze for second-order Austen spinoffs: adaptations of works that are themselves Austen adaptations. Broaden the category to include films that constitute original works of fanfic -- one-and-a-half order adaptations? -- and the numbers multiply.

Before the year is out, we will have experienced (at least!) five second-ish-order spinoffs: an Off Broadway musical based on Clueless, the 1995 movie that updates the story of Emma to high school in Beverly Hills; a fifth-anniversary sequel to the web series Emma Approved; and no fewer than three Pride and Prejudice-inspired Hallmark movies (here, here, and -- before long -- here). And that's not even to mention the announced plans for a remake of Clueless; a movie version of Ayesha at Last, a P&P fanfic set among young Muslims in Toronto; and a filmed update of Persuasion.

Apparently, next year will bring more of the same: Lifetime, the TV channel famed for its tales about women in love, women in danger, and women in love with danger, has just promised us Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta. In this version of the story, the main characters are African-American, Mr. Bennet is a minister – call him Rev. Bennet – and his wife is in a rush to marry off her five daughters because she’s the author of a self-help marriage manual. (Shades of the 2003 P&P movie set among devout Mormons in contemporary Utah?)

I approach almost every new Austen project in a spirit of Christmas-in-July good cheer. Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta? I’m game! Good news: Tracy McMillan, a veteran TV writer whose wise and funny Huffington Post piece “Why You’re Not Married” went viral in 2011, is doing the screenplay! Hurrah! This could be awesome!

And what with the Ayesha At Last news and the September publication of Pride, billed as “a Pride and Prejudice remix” set among black and Latino teenagers in Brooklyn, that brings us to a total of three recent Austen fanfics revolving around characters of color. Don’t look now, but we may have a trend on our hands.

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