Deborah Yaffe

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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!


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