Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Water Dancer Is Getting A Film Adaptation
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The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Getting A Film Adaptation

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BY February 10, 2021

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a bit of a renaissance author. A MacArthur Genius fellow; a respected journalist, as well as an author of popular non-fiction books. Coates is also the author of genre fiction and comic books. Coates has written in the Black Panther and Captain America pantheons over at Marvel. And last year he published his first genre fiction novel with the release of The Water Dancer. Now the powers that be over at MGM will adapt The Water Dancer into a feature film. They are joined by some big names like Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt in this endeavor. Let’s take a look at the news. And see what we know about the upcoming film adaptation of The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Big Names Team Up To Produce The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer Image via Penguin Random House

Ta-Nehisi Coates will be involved in the production of The Water Dancer, and is writing the adaptation himself. He has a famous fan in Oprah Winfrey who chose the novel as part of her newly revived book club last year. Winfrey notably said that The Water Dancer is “one of the best books I have ever read in my life.”

Winfrey’s production company Harpo Films is teaming up with Plan B – Brad Pitt’s company – to adapt the novel. This is not the first time that Winfrey and Pitt have joined forces to bring black stories to the screen. Their companies also worked together on the film Selma.

Oprah Reading Image via O Magazine

MGM executives had this to say about the upcoming adaptation of The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“Ta-Nehisi’s debut fiction novel has at its heart, a beautiful character in Hiram Walker, whose personal odyssey weaves the supernatural and spiritual. With the terrible reality of the forced separations endured by enslaved people and their families for centuries. Hiram’s story is one of devotion to those he loves. And the journey he takes to bring them together. All of us at MGM are incredibly honored to join Ta-Nehisi, Kamilah, Plan B and Harpo Films in bringing this film to the screen.”

The Second Book By Ta-Nehisi Coates Set For Adaptation

Ta-Nehisi Coates Photo by Eduardo Montes-Bradley via Wikimedia Commons

This is not the first book by Coates due for on screen adaptation. His bestselling non-fiction title Between The World And Me was also recently adapted by HBO. That series is due to drop this month, on November 21st. Between The World And Me will also see life as a theatrical production (whenever plays are safe to see again). Kamilah Forbes will direct the theatrical production of Between The World And Me. Forbes is the director of the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, and she is also set to join the production team for The Water Dancer.

In a statement Coates said “I’m honored to be working with Harpo, Plan B and my old friend Kamilah Forbes. We all believe that MGM is the best home for this adaptation and look forward to bringing it to life.”

What Is The Water Dancer About?

The Water Dancer Quote Image via Penguin Random House

Much like of Coates’ non-fiction work, The Water Dancer is about the experiences of Black America that attempts to work through the horrors of slavery and the sins of the country against people of color. It follows Hiram Walker, a slave with a photographic memory. After an accident, Hiram discovers that he has extraordinary abilities that can help him free himself and others from bondage. Throughout the course of the novel Hiram becomes involved in the Underground Railroad and meets many historical figures including Harriet Tubman.

Coates reportedly spent nearly a decade working on the novel before it was published last year. He drew inspiration from his life-long love of the comic book genre when writing The Water Dancer, and the general idea of what it means to be a hero. In an interview with Goodreads he talks the following about his inspiration for The Water Dancer.

“I was a huge comic book fan as a child. Even as a young person, I was very interested in this notion of heroes. Who got to be a hero and who did not. All of that came together with the Civil War research. Because you can’t read that and not realize that a lot of the people who were held up as heroic were in fact straight-up white supremacists.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates The Water Dancer Image via Screengrab

The Water Dancer is a New York Times Bestseller that made its debut at the top of the list when it came out in 2019. With so many big names attached to the film adaptation, there are sure to be some A-List stars joining the cast. We will certainly keep you updated as we learn more. Stay in the know by following Comic Years today on Facebook and Twitter.


Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.

Adaptation NewsAdaptationsBlack AuthorsMovie NewsTa-Nehisi CoatesThe Water Dancer

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