4 Books By Canadian Women We Want to See Turned into Movies (and the Women who should Direct them)

This is the first post by WAM!Van’s new house blogger Emily Yakashiro, a Vancouver activist and editor of the blog,  The Closet Feminist. Stay tuned for more original media analysis from Canadian WAM! members.

The Book: Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai

The Director: Karyn Kusama

Salt Fish Girl is probably one of the best books I have read in the last five years–seriously. This book is the whole reason I am interested in fantasy and sci-fi books now. It is so sensual and atmospheric, I found it hypnotizing. Plus, it is written by a local author, as Lai is a professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The protagonist of the book, Miranda, is, well, many things (I don’t want to spoil anything), but she is a woman of colour and she is queer–such an identity you very, very rarely see on the silver screen, yet is incredibly important to portray. Many of the main characters are women, too, and there is no doubt that the film would pass the Bechdel Test should it come into existence. If you’re not yet convinced consider this: the book explores many timely themes that we have seen in many recent blockbusters including biotechnology, genetic engineering, corporations vs. governments, etc. All this with a heavy dose of Chinese mythology, and you’ve got something truly unique and compelling.

In terms of translating this book to the big screen, I definitely think director Karyn Kusama is up for the task. While I wasn’t a fan of Jennifer’s Body (remember how much of a fuss it caused in feminist circles?), many of the themes explored and the style of the movie would work for Lai’s book. Then, of course, there Aeon Flux, which is why Kusama came to mind in the first place: women working against dark forces in a richly imagined future? Exactly.

The Book: The Diaries of Anaïs Nin by Anaïs Nin

The Director: Sarah Polley

The diaries of Anaïs Nin have been renowned for decades for good reason. She kept diaries her entire life–from childhood until her death, covering youth, adolescence, maturity, and old age, with incredible detail and capacity for the sensual, inimitable life she led. “A personal life deeply lived,” is what she called it. Her affairs (with men and women) are notorious, her passion for independence as a woman admirable. Her sex-positivity and remarkably intuitive and introverted approach to life makes her biography especially noteworthy. One attempt to make a movie, starring Maria de Medeiros in 1990’s Henry and June directed by Philip Kaufman, is great–but Nin had such a remarkable life I’d love to see an earlier or later period adapted to film; she had such an inspiring understanding of growing pains and maturing as a woman. Not to mention that Nin was also very obsessed with clothing, so the costume design for this movie would no doubt be amazing…

Such a remarkable, incandescent woman really needs a director who could translate her experiences to film with great depth, nuance, and sensitivity. Canadian director Sarah Polley definitely seems to be up for such an undertaking. Her movies focus on very unique women often at the centre of something that would seem scandalous at first glance, but Polley handles it with such care and craft that she always makes something truly beautiful, and her characters moving and sympathetic–I think Nin would very much have appreciated that.

The Book: Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

The Director: Kasi Lemmons

If you haven’t read Brown Girl in the Ring, you should–it makes The Hunger Games look like a Gossip Girl novel. Hopkinson is Jamaican born, and Canadian-based, and both places and their lore shine through in this novel. Honestly, I am surprised and unsurprised this hasn’t been made into a film yet. Surprised because it is an amazing story and people would totally be into it, but unsurprised because the film industry and media has an ongoing obsession with white people and this novel is about women of colour. It’s been a few years since I read this novel, but when I was making up this list it was one of the first books to come to mind. Ti-Jeanne is the heroine in this novel, which is set in a dystopic Toronto. She’s a new mother prone to premonitions (right?!) and lives with Gros-Jeanne, her grandmother who is, “a well-respected apothecary and spiritualist.” Stuff starts to go down when Rudy, the crime-lord who runs the city messes with powers he shouldn’t be messing with and Ti-Jeanne rises to the occasion to save the day.

For a director, I pick Nora Ephron. Just kidding! This is no rom-com, that’s for sure. Kasi Lemmons would be a good fit. She’s familiar with intense subject matter with supernatural twists (see Eve’s Bayou and The Caveman’s Valentine), not to mention has a very wide range of genres in her name. Her latest feat, Black Nativity, is a musical, while The Caveman’s Valentine looked to be more along the lines of a Blade or Underworld-type movie. Such versatility would definitely be important for making Brown Girl in the Ring a movie, as there is so much going on.

The Book: The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

The Director: Ava DuVernay

Okay for this one you might be thinking wait-what? Why not something from Atwood’s latest trilogy which includes Oryx and Crake? Just hold your horses–now, obviously Atwood is an amazing Canadian super-feminist. Which is why I love her. But seriously, I think that The Edible Woman is actually quite timely despite being published in 1969. Consider it the anti-Eat Pray Love. I really think this Atwood classic would further interrupt the popular Lean In narratives dominating the landscape lately. More recently, Atwood’s novel was brought to my mind again when I saw this amazing poem by Lily Myers. The book explores themes of motherhood, gender dynamics in romantic relationships, women in the work force, and it’s about a woman in her twenties so it would likely fit right into the Girls craze, too (though I vote we give the lead role of protagonist Marian McAlpin to a woman of colour–Katie Chang from The Bling Ring comes to mind).

Interestingly, Sarah Polley is apparently making Atwood’s novel Alias Grace into a movie, which is awesome, but for this story I’d like to see Ava DuVernay take the helm. I haven’t managed to see her award-winning Middle of Nowhere (she won the prestigious Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Awards), but the trailer for the film, combined with Nijla Mu’Min’s glowing praise for DuVernay’s work in her article “Written Off: Why Aren’t Black Female Screenwriters Getting Their Due?” in the Summer 2013 issue of Bitch has me convinced that DuVernay is the woman for the job.