Words by Nneka Samuel
“It was like nectar after being starved for so long,” says writer/director Sharon Lewis about discovering Jamaican-born writer Nalo Hopkinson’s sci-fi novel Brown Girl In The Ring. The Toronto, Canada native was living in Los Angeles at the time, struggling to find work as an actress, and stumbled upon the book at Eso Won, a popular, Black-owned bookstore. Lewis was excited to see the work of a fellow artist she had first met in the early 90s and “practically read that novel in the bookstore.” That was 1998.
Cut to nearly 20 years later. Lewis is mere days away from completing an Indiegogo campaign to raise $30,000 CAD for a prequel feature film based on BGIR. The character-driven story focuses on Ti-Jeanne, a young woman haunted by Caribbean spirits in a post-apocalyptic Toronto. She rebels against her grandmother’s mystical Caribbean teachings and runs away with her first love, but she must obey her guardian spirit lest someone dies. This prequel is the first step that Ti-Jeanne must take in order to become the heroine we meet in the novel.
Lewis is right at home with this project, as she has made a career fashioning stories about the Canadian Caribbean experience. And though this BGIR project is many years in the making, she knows that now is the perfect time to bring it to the big screen.
“Part of the challenge [in getting BGIR made] was that it’s sci-fi, but also I think because it has a strong female protagonist. We’re talking almost 20 years ago, 15 years ago, that was not prominent,” Lewis says. “So I think the zeitgeist is now.With Mad Max and Twilight and Hunger Games and Divergent…it’s finally like, oh, young women can be the lead of a film.”
Of Trinidadian and Jamaican parentage, Lewis infused the stories that she grew up hearing about soucouyants and duppies into the BGIR storyline. “I thought it would be interesting to fuse those spirits with Carnival characters because the Carnival characters, you know, come from that. So in the film, the spirits are represented by Carnival characters that walk amongst us, and only if you have that vision or seeing powers that Ti-Jeanne has can you see them. That’s one unique aspect and something that I’m really excited about exploring.”
The film has already secured money from the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council, but the production risks losing those funds unless they are matched with financial support from the Indiegogo campaign as well as corporate, private and government funding. Lewis has been touched and inspired by the outpouring of support she has received from an audience that’s obviously hungry for this kind of content.
Those anxiously following BGIR’s progress will be happy to know that a third draft of what will be the sequel is currently being completed by Lewis’ producing and writing partner, which promises to delve further into the mystical and compelling world that Ti-Jeanne inhabits, and to “tell the story in sort of a more classic sci-fi, bigger epic battle sort of way.”
BGIR Indiegogo contributors will reap the rewards of numerous perks which include, a #browngirlmovement t-shirt, an author-signed copy of BGIR, limited edition prints of BGIR artwork by David Rudder, and a walk on role in the film, to name a few. Help Sharon Lewis and her team make history with the first Canadian Caribbean sci-fi film. Click here to contribute.