Taika Waititi is taking on Percival Everett’s James.

Brittany Allen

June 24, 2024, 12:31pm

In evergreen news, it seems that Hollywood has gotten its hooks into yet another beloved literary property. Taika Waititi, of Thor/Our Flag Means Death/Reservation Dogs-etc., is slated to direct the film adaptation of Percival Everett’s latest bit of wizardry: the best-selling novel James. 

James is itself an adaptation, of a great American picaresqueMark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Only Everett’s book retells the story from Jim’s perspective, reframing the “adventures” through the eyes of Huck’s enslaved companion, Jim.

Praised on publication for its elastic language and thriller’s pacing, critics also clocked that Everett’s version renders a great correction. In The New York Times, Dwight Garner observed, “Beneath the wordplay, and below the packed dirt floor of Everett’s moral sensibility, James is an intensely imagined human being.” (At last.)

Will a film be able to capture all these layers? It helps to learn that Everett himself has signed on to adapt the screenplay, with Steven Spielberg to executive produce and Waititi in talks to direct. A production timeline remains squidgy though, as Waititiwho previously polished his directing chops on the Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbitis clearly gunning for the title of hardest-working-man-in-Studio City. James is not even the only literary project on his lengthy docket. In May, Deadline reported that Waititi had signed on to adapt Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun for the big screen.

Since you asked? Everett’s work has never struck this fan as an obvious candidate for the film treatment. His twisty novels, which tend to feature sideways structures and multiple narrative eddies, seem to delight in resisting the old Freytag pyramid. Last year’s American Fiction, the Cord Jefferson-penned adaptation of Everett’s spiky satire, Erasure, did manage to save the cat while retaining the spirit of the source materialbut some things were lost in translation. Namely the finer points of his acidic, singular critique of the publishing industry. (They also did Tracee wrong, imho.)

Then again, I’m thrilled Everett’s getting royalties. His laurels are long overdue. And there is little more American than optimizing stories into new money-making properties.

Over the last 104 years, Twain’s novel has been adapted for the screen fourteen times.

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