by Ololade Faniyi
Nigerian physicist-turned-author, Femi Fadugba’s debut Young Adult (YA) fantasy novel, The Upper World, has been acquired for feature film adaptation by Netflix. The novel follows the story of Esso, a 15-year-old boy from South London who, at the height of a personal crisis, gains the ability to see glimpses of the past and the future. Oscar-nominated actor, Daniel Kaluuya, (known for Get Out, Queen and Slim and Black Panther) is set to star as Esso and produce the film alongside Screen Arcade’s Eric Newman and Bryan Unkeless. Newman had brought the novel to Netflix to acquire its worldwide rights for feature film. Fadugba will serve as executive producer.
In a statement, Netflix Film’s Vice President, Tendo Nagenda, says that The Upper World was one of those stories “that impact life and expand the way people see and experience life”. Fadugba, describing his inspirations, recalls his national award and speech at the House of Commons for a writing a quantum physics paper in the same journal that published many of Einstein’s works. On the same night as his speech, it was reported that a 15-year-old had been stabbed. Fadugba, in grief, came up with the idea to merge the contrasting narratives of Black excellence and trauma by combining the story of a kid from South London with the physics of time travel to create a story which everyone, nerds, hustlers and jocks, would want to read. Describing the plot, he says:
My novel, The Upper World, is a contemporary story set in Peckham, London that follows 16-year-old Esso over a school day. Close to getting expelled, and caught up in a life-threatening feud, Esso receives an unexpected gift – access to a world where he can see glimpses of the past and the future. I explain his powers using physics, meaning the audience gets to uncover new concepts alongside Esso, whose life literally depends on them.
The Upper World is first in a planned two-book series to be published by Penguin UK and HarperCollins US in mid-2021 and early 2022, respectively. The Bookseller earlier reported that Penguin Random House won a 15-way auction to publish the two-book series in early August 2020.
A big congratulations to Femi Fadugba for yet another big win for African fiction writers. In June 2020, it had also been announced that Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman and Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives are becoming Netflix series, to be produced by the Nigerian media mogul, Mo Abudu.