This is a special guest post from K. Sadee, author of the Robinson Sisters series. I'd initially asked her to contribute to last Friday's post, but she sent me something that was well beyond what I'd even envisioned and I knew I had to gon' head and bless y'all with the young long form. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
When I was asked to write a few words for #RomanceAwarenessMonth, I started out thinking that I was going to write about my favorite romantic moments in television or movies. I have a few like when Dwayne Wayne broke up Whitley’s wedding to Papa Pope (imagine telling your kids that the love was rekindled when their daddy fought off groomsmen and security? Swoon, friends. Swoon.) Or that airplane scene in Beyond the Lights (a curse on Nate Parker’s peanut head). But the more I thought about that, the more I thought about the scenes that I wish I could see.
From my books (MVP Daddy, Hot 16, Alternative Endings—shameless plug) it’s probably easy to see that I love Black History. Love it. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is my new happy place and I send tithes and offering to it every month because of how deep my love for Black History goes. But, sadly the Black historical options on television and film tend to not feature very much Black love. They feature black suffering and even righteous black defiance, but except for a few notable exceptions—the recent Roots, Hidden Figures, and Underground—there hasn’t been very much revolutionary, historical Black love.
And I want to see it there. I need to see it there. Not because I need to have Hollywood affirm me or the wonder that is healing Negro Nosed Romance, but because I want to get my historical swoon on to people who look like me and my loved ones. With all due respect to Jane Austen and no desire to upset her altar, I want to see someone other than Darcy and Lizzie fall in love over and over. I say this as I wonder where my BBC DVDs are so I can binge on Colin Firth’s Darcy, but still.
Ok, semi-rant over. Let’s get to the good stuff. The love stories I want to see that have already been written. This list is not all of the books that I want filmed, but I did choose my top choices so that this post did not become as long as a text book. It was close. The cuts I had to make to it had me pacing.
This list would not be complete without the Queen of Historical Romance and Literary Lovin’ That’s Good Like Cornbread, Beverly Jenkins. I have several, several options here for the books of hers that I pray get turned into movies or short series. I know Black Jesus is tired of getting my praymails about this, but I’m going to choose my Top Two.
1) Indigo: This will probably be my longest referral because this book is my literary Beyonce. I’m going to stan. Listen beloveds, there are several reasons why Indigo is a book that I need the literary gods to put on screen. The first is the heroine, Hester Wyatt. She’s an invaluable part of the Underground Railroad in Michigan, and our brave couple met when she was nursing him back to health. Listen. She’s basically real fearless goals. She faces down things and people in the book that would have made me hide behind her. She’s the kind of heroine that you not only want to be friends with, but you want to emulate.
And, because it’s an important part of the story and another reason that I really want this book to be a movie, she’s dark skinned. And no, not dusky skinned. Not smedium caramel with an extra dust of cinnamon, but dark. And our brave hero (more on that later), Galen ADORES it. He describes her as having skin that “looked like the gift of an African night goddess.” Swoon. Do you hear me? Get the church ushers to heft me up and carry me away. I’m not going to do a colorism rant, but do you know how wonderful this was? The cover here is the cover I first read this book under (I had no business reading that at the time, but I already took that up with Black Jesus) and for a darker girl, this was LIFE. We rarely, if ever see a black man pursuing and loving on a dark woman in movies. At least we don’t see the healthy, “she’s not my mule and I adore every pigment in her skin” love. This book‘s heroine wasn’t runner up or second choice love (that happens with women outside of “beauty standards” typically darker or bigger women) either. She was his first and only choice and he made that clear to her and the whole town. I love a hero who is sprung like a gymnast at Olympic try outs. I’m mad at myself for losing this physical book (I have the ebook, of course) because honestly, I don’t even remember seeing women her shade on covers often, but that’s another post.
Let’s get to the hero, Galen Vachon. Honey child goin’ wild. Listen. Even outside of how he adores the heroine, the brother is IT. He was a lover AND a fighter in all the best ways. He was a rich black man who uses that privilege to be an infamous freedom fighter and lead enslaved people to freedom under the name Black Daniel. You can swoon right there. I’ll wait. He’s bout it. I’m trying not to spoil it, but “Never Scared” was written for and about this man. They just didn’t know it. And again, I’m not going to spoil it, but that moment at the end where he’s sitting on a horse with a gun and gold ready to defend his love is better than diamonds and roses. I deserve to see it on my big screen too. And when he defended Hester from colorism in his family, I hit my best shout. Put that on my big screen and collect my money.
2) Topaz: I said that I was going to stick to two novels from the Empress of Romantic Black History and while it was hard to decide on the second novel, after much prayer, fasting (I didn’t eat my afternoon bag of chips yet), and deliberation I finally decided. I wish I could do a drum roll, but the tech geniuses haven’t figured that out yet, but I decided it would be this one.
I always semi-jokingly say that if it wasn’t for Beverly Jenkins, I wouldn’t know that black people had been in the West as anything but enslaved people and Buffalo Soldiers. Pray for the children and our schools, y’all. Anyway, I would have had no beginning clue of how extensive that history was or had the desire to look further. But, let’s get into this book and why this book should be on screen.
This book while it does touch on racism and the effect that it can have on black people and other people of color—the Black Seminoles and all the reasons Andrew Jackson is probably roasting below are mentioned in it—a lot of it is just black and Native people thriving and dealing with intracommunity issues. We don’t see that in historical movies often if ever. I’m ready to see a black cowboy win his lady journalist, newspaper owner (this is important. SO much love for the Black Press in this book) love in a POC community that was thriving.
Second, it’s just funny. Not many depictions of Black people in the past on film are (purposefully) funny like this. The heroine, Kate Love and the hero, a black lawman named Dix come together in an arranged marriage and their immediate reactions to each other and the realistic difficulties their two strong personalities have joining their lives deserve to flicker across my screen. The heroine and her women friends/co-conspirators have to deal with sexism from the men in their lives and the method is hilarious in a way that again, black women in historical films are rarely depicted. Come on Hollywood and indie producers, give me my movie!
3) Be Not Afraid: This one is a little darker and shorter than my other choices, but I think it is important to see more images of black people during the Revolutionary War. So many movies, plays, and History Channel specials—when they take a break from aliens—are based on the Founding Fathers and other rich, influential men during the Revolutionary War. So, so, many. I’d like to see more about how regular people got along and survived one of the few wars on our soil. And more than that, I’d like to see more about how black people lived and loved then and the difficult decisions they made to protect their lives and loved ones. Alyssa Cole provided the blueprint here for that kind of exploration on film with this book.
The hero, Elijah Sutton is an enslaved man fighting for the Patriots to gain his freedom and the heroine is on the other side trying to escape America, slavery, and some truly awful memories. The two of them are complex characters and with the right actors could truly show the tensions that black people have felt with loyalty and this country since before the Declaration was signed.
(Sidenote: Look at this cover. Who wouldn’t want to ride up to the Regal Movie Theatre and see this plastered against the wall?)
4 and 5 Taffy and Songbird: I’m putting these two together because I feel that I’m being my late father’s daughter and getting lengthy. I love a good old family tale. Give me familial love and family tension with my romance and I’m sold. Take all my little money. Both these books give me that and both of them should be on the big screen.
Suzette Harrison’s Taffy is a love story between Taffy Bledsoe Freeman who has The Sight and Roam Ellis who is a Pullman porter in 1935. Roam Ellis, a Pullman porter. I hope you got that faster than I did the first time I read it, but it was 2 am so all slow on the uptake sins are washed away. There isn’t much I can say without giving it all away and when I say “all,” I mean ALL. The secrets in the Bledsoe family are juicy, but so is the love. Think 1935 Hope Floats without the characters that sound like they benefited from Jim Crow. Don’t get me wrong, I love the movie but we’ve seen this kind of story so many times with white characters that I’m ready to see it with black characters. And honestly, no shade. The only real comparison is that the heroine in Hope Floats and Taffy are both escaping philandering husbands and find love in a hopeless place (cue Rihanna!). But thassit. This book is full of so much more than that. The Knowing (read the book) could have its own movie. Give me family drama! Give me a loving hero who wades through allllll of that to be with his love! Toward the end of the book Roam says to Taffy, “I never wanted another woman until I couldn’t have you. But I couldn’t taste another woman now with you all over my tongue even if I wanted to.” The heart eyes I felt reading that after all they had been through? Give me lights, camera, and action!
Also, Bledsoe was the town that the characters lived in and as the author puts it, “Ain’t nothing white here ‘cept milk and teeth.” I said take my ticket, subscription money already right? Let me say it again. Take all my baby money. Here. Make the film.
Songbird is a multigenerational novel with three books by three different authors Iris Bolling, Piper Huguley, and Deborah Fletcher-Mello. So we could get a series or at least a made for television limited special. The story starts with the deathbed of the matriarch, Sparrow. Don’t let that slow you down like it did me (I’m the happy ending queen), there’s more loving than sorrow in this book. And each of the characters including the matriarch Sparrow have their own journey to love that could easily translate to film.
We go through decades starting with the 1960s and the authors do not shirk from the difficulties that the characters would encounter in these decades, but like black people in real life (where else are all these beautiful brown babies coming from?) they were still able to get some lovin’ in between and some music. Music. Obviously from my Robinson series and if you follow me on any social media, it’s obvious how much I love music. The voice is my favorite instrument and Sparrow, Lark, and Dove are highly gifted vocal musicians. You KNOW I’m willing to pay for my ticket or rush to my television right now or in the words of an old deacon somewhere ‘raht nah.” Give me a musical, Hollywood! If I can hear flat singing in La La Land, I can get some Black church humming and sweet harmonizing with Songbird. And some heroes with more to contend with than saving a musical genre that never asked to be saved.
There’s a rant there, but now is not the time. It’s all Black love right now. Anyway, this is the kind of movie that I need right now. Give me black love throughout the decades! Give me endurance and joy on the screen!
On a related note, since we know that American history is not taught well, not to mention Black History, seeing these historical novels on film could help a little with that. These ladies did their due diligent research ok? Ms. Beverly Jenkins stays with a smooth bibliography in a book and Piper Huguley is DOCTOR Piper Huguley a history professor at Spelman, ladies and gents. The work is done and it should be seen on the screen. There are no white saviors. Halleloo. Just us. Doing what we need to do FOR us.
And maybe someone will be inspired by the history they see. For instance, until Indigo, I did not know about Ellen and William Craft. Those real life events are a movie. A feature film. In 1846, Ellen Craft who was so light she could pass, dressed as a young white man and traveled with her dark husband posed as her manservant from Georgia to Philly on trains and steamboats for freedom. From Georgia to Philly. Pretending to be a man. Training herself not to give her husband any of the loving looks a woman gives her man and her husband training himself not to think of her as his wife. Listen. That’s a movie. An Academy Award winning film. And maybe if we watch Hester and Galen discuss the events on screen, someone will realize it. It’s better than Rose not scooting over two inches for Jack anyway.