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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

On fire

Nearly two years ago, word trickled out that a same-sex update of Pride and Prejudice, set on the gay mecca of New York’s Fire Island, would stream on the much-hyped Quibi platform.

Long story short: Quibi, which delivered bite-size news and entertainment videos directly to users’ phones, launched in April 2020 and was dead by December. And Trip, the proposed Austen update, which was to be written by American actor and comedian Joel Kim Booster, never made it onto the roster.

But now the project seems to have gained a second life: Booster will co-star with Saturday Night Live alum Bowen Yang in a feature-length version of the same story, now titled Fire Island. Shooting is scheduled to start next month, Searchlight Pictures is the studio, and Hulu will stream the result.

“The film will center on two best friends embarking on a weeklong vacation to Fire Island — the historic gay escape off the southern shore of Long Island — with the help of cheap rosé and a cadre of eclectic friends,” Variety reports.

If you’re keeping score at home, this brings us up to, by my count, ten Austen-related screen projects said to be somewhere in the development pipeline. (Ten! For a woman who only finished six novels!)

--Under “straight-up Austen adaptations,” we’ve got both the Dakota Johnson Persuasion, now shooting for Netflix, and the Sarah Snook Persuasion, still in pre-production.

--Under “period adaptations claiming a relationship to Austen,” we’ve got the upcoming ITV/PBS sequel seasons of Sanditon, which started out as an adaptation of Austen’s final unfinished novel but left Austen’s work behind way back in Episode One.

--Under “Austen updates, Pride and Prejudice division,” we’ve got Fire Island; The Netherfield Girls, a Netflix project set to feature Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, the nineteen-year-old star of Mindy Kaling’s series Never Have I Ever; and the HBO adaptation of Ibi Zoboi’s young-adult novel Pride.

--Under “Austen updates, Emma division,” we’ve got Glowing Up, an Amazon Studios project that will turn a graphic novel called Mismatched into an animated musical series.

--Under “Austen updates, grab-bag division,” we’ve got the CW’s Modern Austen series, which is projected to include season-long modernizations of each Austen novel.

--Under "Austen fanfic, faux-bio division," we've got the Amazon Studios movie of Jane in Love, a time-travelling romance with Austen herself as the protagonist.

--And under “Dear God, tell me they haven’t roped Jane Austen into this,” we’ve got Peacock’s Regency-themed reality dating show Pride and Prejudice: An Experiment in Romance.

It’s likely that at least some of these projects won’t cross the finish line. But in the meantime, it’s notable how thoroughly diversity in casting and storytelling has penetrated the Janeite universe.

The Netflix Persuasion has cast Black actors in secondary roles, and Sanditon, at least in its first season, featured important Black characters. Fire Island stars Asian-American leads in a same-sex romance. The Netherfield Girls centers an Indian-American woman, Glowing Up is said to be about “a gay Latino/Jew matchmaker,” and Pride is set in an Afro-Caribbean neighborhood of New York City. Few details about Modern Austen have been announced yet, but the folks involved in that project are known for their engagement with issues of race, gender, and class.

As for P&P: An Experiment, the casting call is still pending, so time will tell if this dating show manages to avoid the racial tone-deafness of its most famous prototype. At least we’ll have plenty of other things to watch while we’re waiting to find out.

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