Blair Underwood goes for the greenlight: a six-year journey to develop and star in a film based on Tananarive Due's My Soul to Keep catches fire in a partnership with an enthusiastic studio. Here's the story so far in bringing one popular black novel to the screen.

Author:McHenry, Susan
Position:Cover Story

"Ever since I was a kid, I used to cut out pictures from catalogs to represent characters in my stories," explains novelist Tananarive Due about how she visualizes the people who inhabit her fictional worlds. "I have to feel that I'm surrounded by a three-dimensional environment--that it's real. If there's a location, I want to see the location. If there's a person, I wanted to see the person." With her 1997 novel, My Soul to Keep, Blair Underwood's was always the face Due saw before her as she wrote about Dawit/David, the handsome, well-traveled 500-year-old Ethiopian immortal who dares to commit himself to a mortal passion, home and family with a contemporary African-American woman, risking the exposure of his immortal clan's secrets.

Now in a dream come true for Due, for the book's agent Janell W. Agyeman (of the Marie Brown Agency), and for its fans, not only is Blair Underwood himself preparing to play the lead role in the film adaptation, Underwood is also one of the film's producers. For the last six years, he's worked diligently with various partners until he found his way to the Fox Searchlight studio, where he and two coproducers, Nia Hill and De'Angela Steed of Strange Fruit Productions, landed a development deal announced last August. Fox Searchlight bought the script written by Frank Underwood, Blair's brother and partner in their ten-year-old production company, Eclectic Entertainment. The studio has meanwhile attached to the project director Rick Famuyiwa, whose most recent film Brown Sugar, Fox Searchlight had produced. (Previously, he had also directed The Wood.)

Famuyiwa is now polishing up Frank Underwood's scenario into his shooting script, a typical procedure for a writer/director like Famuyiwa. After the shooting script is signed off on by all the producers, Blair and his associates will be going for Fox Searchlight's still-to-be-flashed greenlight and confirm a production schedule when they'll actually start filming.

By now, author Tananarive Due has become accustomed to the vagaries of the Hollywood waiting game. When her first novel, The Between, was published in 1995, its film rights were optioned for a year, but no film was made. Still, Samuel Goldwyn Productions contacted her immediately about rights to her second novel, so she didn't even think about approaching Underwood at first. Then at an outdoor cultural festival in Florida, where she lived at the time, the former Miami Herald journalist ran into an old...

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