For my final project, I proposed to pitch three media projects: an original idea, a historical event and a reboot. As someone who loves both creating and taking in media, I often find myself wishing casts were more diverse, not for the sake of diversity but because so many underrepresented actors are amazing and deserve to be main characters. Whitewashing, both in casting choices and in the retelling of history is a huge issue in popular culture, and often in adaptations where race or gender isn’t specified, straight, cis white men are often the default. In addition watching shows can be stressful if the way underrepresented people are portrayed is simply full of stereotypes and tropes, these characters the first ones to be killed if the genre calls for it. If I had (more of) a say in what got made and who was involved, what would I do? Let’s find out!
Original Idea: Hen & Chick
For an original project, I would have a fantasy novel I wrote, HEN & CHICK: The Marauders’ Island turned into a movie or a miniseries.
The blurb for the book reads as follows:
Azria is a mage of Miz, trained to wield the magic her country is famous for. When her estranged mother, alleged pirate Captain Apzana of the Hen & Chick, shows up on her 16th birthday offering her adventure, Azria leaves the life she knows for the promise of riches, renown and danger at her mother’s side.
But more mysteries than answers surface when Apzana reveals why she’s called on Azria after years of absence: the treasure of the Marauders’ Island, an island sunk into the Sapphire Sea generations ago by the infamous mage Iyzani. If Azria can raise the island, the score of a thousand shores will be theirs for the taking and she’ll secure her place among her mother’s crew. But when Iyzani emerges from the shadows to stop them, Azria must summon her power and navigate the waters of revenge and ambition.
A lot of different influences went into this book, among them my love for fantasy and magic and my desire to go against some of the tropes so common in fantasy stories. These often figure white, chosen one protagonists who are orphans traipsing from inn to inn to eat mutton stew and then fight ultimate evil in the form of a bad guy or a beast. There are SO MANY dead moms in fantasy stories and as a mom and someone raised by women, I really think this demographic deserves to have a little bit of adventure when we are making things up. I brought some of my culture into the story by making the main setting a set of islands, featuring people from all over the place and having the characters eat foods I grew up eating (plantains are magic, I don’t care what anyone says). Azria has parents from two different countries, and while the idea of ‘race’ as it exists here in our world doesn’t bode the same there, there is still the idea of belonging and culture that Azria struggles with. There are also lots of queer characters who just get to live their lives. The setting is bright and vibrant.
I don’t have anyone in mind for most of the roles but I would want Gina Torres to play Apzana, the captain of the ship and Azria’s mom. At one point in time I envisioned Reggie Lee as the first mate Bolo, Dev Patel as the supplier, Eixon and Judy Reyes as the ship doctor, Onacá. However, a lot of time has passed between when I wrote this book and now so the plausibility of these actors being available has shifted considerably. Obviously having this story on any kind of screen would be amazing. It’s exactly the kind of movie that, if I saw it when I was a kid, I would have freaked out.
Historical Retelling: The Combahee River Raid
We just had a movie about Harriet Tubman but it ends right before she performed one of her most daring feats: organizing the Raid on the Combahee Ferry! A movie about Harriet Tubman’s involvement in the Civil War would be amazing (though I will note, Drunk History did a short version of this historic event). You can read about the raid specifically here but the struggles she faced, getting white officers to give her the power and resources she needed to plan it, her missions to gather intelligence about the area, the presence of white abolitionists who would stop at nothing to free enslaved people opposed to more moderate members of the Union Army, the South struggling to keep their armies fed and clothed during the war to continue slavery, all culminating in a huge battle? It deserves to be seen on the big screen. Not to mention many of the Black soldiers in her ranks were freed and may have had family members on the farms they raided. It’s full of drama and larger than life characters. It’s an amazing part of history which should be more known about.
Reboot: Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
I’m a huge fan of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And while I acknowledge the place the original Bladerunner movie has in our cinematic history and development of the cyberpunk aesthetic, I would really like to reboot this as a miniseries to better emulate the themes of the book and update them for the modern day.
One of the tenets of cyberpunk is ‘high tech, low life’ and our tech has indeed gone higher while the quality of life has indeed dipped, especially when compared to the billionaires who run things. I would put a bigger focus on power dynamics between class and race, which play a huge role today in how people empathize with one another. I would also want to bring in the subjects of empathy and Mercerism which were core to the original plot and themes of the book.
In addition to recasting the movie, I would make the city of San Francisco feel more empty, as it is in the book. In the world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Anyone who can afford it lives on Mars, away from the poisoned environment of earth. San Francisco is one of the cities affected by the pollution and its population would be much lower, giving this one vibrant city a ghost like feel full of stragglers, those hoping to leave and those forbidden to do so. One change I would make from the book besides casting more underrepresented people would be to try to visually establish the hierarchy among the humans by having some of the higher ups operating from Mars via screens/holograms to further play with the idea of reality/who is real and who isn’t. As more and more jobs become remote and with talks of the world becoming inhabitable, it would make sense for higher ups to delegate from afar, from the safety of climate controlled, sterile offices while salaried workers and hourly earners make their way through the dust and decay of a newly wild west coast where order must still be maintained. Another movie set in San Francisco I would like to take influence from would be Sorry to Bother you by Boots Riley.
As for the cast:
Richard Deckard: Andrew Koji. Andrew Koji has big shoes to fill. Ryan Gosling has taken on the role of the new detective who retires androids in Blade Runner 2049. San Francisco has a huge Asian population so a mixed race character would be more than plausible for a futuristic version of SF. Koji has acting chops and action chops which opens up the possibility of a bit more action.
Iran, Richard Deckard’s wife: Indya Moore. Indya Moore is a great actress, enough said.
Bill Barbour: Richar’s neighbor who owns a horse: William Jackson Harper.
Bryant, Richard Deckard’s boss: Nana Visitor. This character would operate from Mars, via vidscreen. This character is originally male in the book but doesn’t have to be.
Holden, another bounty hunter who is injured by Polokov: Gwendolyn Christie. This character is male in the book but it doesn’t have to be.
Eldon Rosen: Martin Csokas. This character would operate via hologram in their headquarters on Earth. It wouldn’t be apparent from the beginning but it would become apparent as the scene played out, either through dialog or effect.
Rachel/Pris: Ruth Negga. In the book, Pris and Rachel are said to be the same model of Nexus-6 so Pris and Rachel should be played by the same person. Ruth Negga is an Irish actress with stellar acting chops who could pull this off.
Resch, a human bounty hunter who questions his own humanity. Riz Ahmed
Garland, an android posing as a human to monitor humans via a fake police station. Michael Ealy
John Isidore: Lakieth Stanfield
Mercer: Oscar Isaac. I want him to be rich, to be honest. And he’s got good range which is important because….
Buster Friendly: Oscar Isaac. Like Pris/Rachel being the same model, I think it’d be interesting to have Buster and Mercer played by the same person, but obviously in different make up. Mercer and Buster Friendly are both there as vehicles for people to relate to, as Mercerism has the empathy machines people use to experience his trek up the hill, while ‘everyone watches Buster Friendly,’ as reported by Isodore. People on Mars and Earth participate in both forms of media, which distract people from the reality around them with promises of togetherness and emotional connection. Casting Oscar Isaac is a bit tongue in cheek, as it is kind of an internet joke that Oscar Isaac will be in anything with robots. The guy loves robots, what can I say.
Irmgard Batty: Eréndira Ibarra.
Roy Batty: Lennie James
Max Polokov, an escaped Nexus 6 who poses as a Russian agent. Max Reimult
Luba Luft: Stephanie Beatriz. The music could be changed to better fit the story/her singing ability (which exists and is actually quite good).
Hannibal Sloat: John Isidore’s boss: Mel Rodriguez
Milt: Isidore’s co-worker: Manny Jacinto ❤
It took me a while to think of a good cast for this story! One area I wish I could speak more to is the choice of director, as who is behind the camera is as important as who is in front of it. I mentioned Boots Riley before as someone who definitely can do interesting sci-fi, and Jordan Peele seems overdone, Ava Duvernay is really popular right now for good reasons but I know there are probably some less well known directors who could really pull this off.
I tried to pull from actors I had seem from on the most part, though there are a few I haven’t seen in many things. There is a part of me that didn’t want to cast Lennie James as Roy Batty because (spoilers for a move that has been out for a long time) Roy Batty is killed in the end and I am tired of seeing Black people die on screen. Yet Lennie James is an amazing actor who would do a great job of playing this formidable, charismatic leader of the escaped robots. My consolation besides getting to see him act is knowing there are other Black characters who make it till the end. I would also want to be careful to not have the Nexus-6 androids be simply evil, as I loathe narratives of killer robots. The company which is behind the creation of the androids, a culture that entices people to move to another planet with the promise of their own (artificial) slave, that relegates empathy to being for animals or within the confines of the empathy box…that is far more sinister to me. The fact that androids are not allowed to live on Earth is something I’d like to explore more, if I had to chance to work it for the screen.
Sometimes trying someone you are unfamiliar only seems like taking a risk, because you are unfamiliar with them, when in reality they have the ability, the drive and the desire. By looking outside the dictates of the common culture, we can be entertained by the stories people are very eager to tell. The stories we see tell us how we are viewed. If we are given more chances to show how we see ourselves, sitting down to watch Netflix can be even more chill.