Now that his “America Gods” is officially becoming a TV series at the Starz cable TV network in the USA, might his “Anansi Boys” novel also get the same treatment, whether at Starz or at some other network?
It’s certainly possible. In 2014, it was announced that both Neil Gaiman books were to hit the small screen at last – his 2001 novel “American Gods” and the semi-sequel, “Anansi Boys.” Gaiman confirmed this on his website in February 2014.
Originally set up at HBO, over a year later, Starz took over “American Gods,” with FremantleMedia’s North American arm producing, while rights to “Anansi Boys” reportedly went to UK production company Red.
As of today, the “American Gods” adaptation is set to premiere in 2017, with Ricky Whittle starring. Of note, Orlando Jones will play Mr. Nancy in “American Gods,” the old trickster god of West African folklore more commonly known as Anansi. However, since the 2014 announcement, there have been no public updates on the adaptation of “Anansi Boys;” although it certainly doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been some movement that hasn’t been made public.
“Anansi Boys” centers on the sons of the West African spider-god who is featured in “American Gods,” and will be played by the aforementioned Orlando Jones. It was to become a BBC mini-series produced by Red, which has been responsible for some of the biggest UK hits of recent years including “Last Tango in Halifax,” and “Scott and Bailey.”
At the time, Gaiman said: “Yes, I’m really thrilled about both of these things. Fremantle has the harder task, as they are going to have to open up American Gods into something bigger than the book. Red are just going to have to make an absolutely brilliant faithful version of Anansi Boys.”
When asked for more information, a Red spokesperson said everyone was “very excited” but couldn’t elucidate further, adding, “I’m afraid we are in very early development with Neil at the moment.”
But back to Gaiman’s statement on Red making an “absolutely brilliant faithful version” of “Anansi Boys”… emphasis on “faithful”…
About 5 years ago (before any of the above plans were announced), while on tour promoting the 10th anniversary edition of “American Gods,” speaking to Collider.com, Gaiman addressed the problems he had faced in bringing both novels to the screen, stating: “One of the things I’m concerned about is that I really want to make sure the races of all the characters are kept… I want to keep the racial mix in ‘American Gods’ the same. And, I want to make it faithful, but also would like it to have a few surprises for people who read the book…”
And specifically about casting Mr. Nancy, aka Anansi, a trickster from West African folklore, and the adaptation of “Anansi Boys,” Gaiman added: “That was something I found deeply problematic with the attempt by some people who had a lot of money and a lot of clout, and who wanted the rights to ‘Anansi Boys,’ at one point. Somewhere in there, they made the fatal mistake of saying to me, ‘And, of course, the characters won’t be black in the movie because black people don’t like fantasy.’ They were suddenly very surprised that we were no longer interested in selling them the book.”
And I’m certainly glad that he didn’t give in to their demands, whoever these studio executives were.
Gaiman once said that Morgan Freeman would be his choice to play Mr. Nancy; he also said that, while writing the main character of “Anansi Boys,” Charlie Nancy (Mr. Nancy son), he had actor and comedian Lenny Henry in mind, who later narrated the audiobook of the novel. Although the book was first published 11 years ago, and Henry is now 57, much older than the character as written in the novel, so it’s unlikely that whenever the book does become a TV series, Lenny Henry won’t be starring in it.
If readers found “American Gods” hard to classify, they will be equally nonplussed but very entertained by Gaiman’s awesome mingling of the mundane and the fantastic in “Anansi Boys.” In the novel, “Fat Charlie” Nancy, as he’s called, leads a workaholic life in London, with a stressful job he doesn’t much like, and a pleasant fiancée, Rosie. When Charlie learns of the death of his estranged father in Florida, he attends the funeral and learns two facts that turn his well-ordered existence upside-down: that his father was a human form of Anansi, the West African trickster god, and that he has a brother named Spider, who has inherited some of their father’s godlike abilities. Spider comes to visit Charlie and gets him fired from his job, steals his fiancée, and is instrumental in having him arrested for embezzlement and suspected of murder. When Charlie resorts to magic to get rid of Spider, things begin to go very badly for just about everyone.
It’s uncertain whether “Anansi Boys” will eventually make it to the screen, big or small. It could very well be that the BBC and Red might wait to see how “American Gods” is received when it debuts likely in 2017, before advancing their own production of “Anansi Boys.”
No other news on the project has been announced since the first announcement; not even casting. So we continue to wait. Although I’m encouraged by Gaiman’s unwavering public commitment to ensure that any screen adaptation is absolutely faithful to the source material. So any forthcoming announcements shouldn’t surprisingly reflect some new and unexpected thinking by the author, or the production companies behind the adaptation.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there have certainly been screen explorations of the Ananse myth; most recently, we featured Ghanaian American filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu’s short film “Kwaku Ananse,” a personal project for the artist, which draws upon Ghanaian mythology, combining semi-autobiographical elements with the tale of Kwaku Ananse, the trickster who appears as both spider and man. The film explored the theme of “doubleness.” It played at several international film festivals.
If you’ve never read Gaiman’s novel, pick up a copy of “Anansi Boys” here.
Below is a trailer for Akosua’s short film, “Kwaku Ananse.”