Kasi Lemmons to Adapt, Direct South African Novel 'Agaat'

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Kasi Lemmons is attached to adapt and direct the critically acclaimed South African novel Agaat by Marlene van Niekerk.

U.K. producer Patrick Holzen is producing the film alongside Mark R. Harris (CrashGods & Monsters) and Los Angeles-based Debbie Vandermeulen. The film will be co-produced by Do Productions in South Africa.

Set in South Africa during the apartheid era of the 1950s-'90s, Agaat takes place on a farm run by a desperately unhappy white couple, Milla and Jak de Wet.  Ever present in their lives is their half-adopted, half-enslaved black maid, Agaat. When Jak dies and Milla grows gravely ill, Agaat ascends to power over the farm and her paralyzed “mistress.” The story explores the boundaries of racial and domestic violence, pride, loyalty, folly, intimacy, self-deception and the very nature of human love.

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Agaat was published in the United States on April 27, 2010 -- “Freedom Day” as it’s known in South Africa and the anniversary of the country’s first free elections and the day Nelson Mandela was elected president. The book appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s fall reading list that year.

"(The book) is quite possibly the best and most profound book I've ever read," Lemmons told THR. "I was immediately taken in by the drama and pathos between the two lead characters, with all their complex history and baggage. It's a reflection on South Africa's turbulent past, but above all, it's a love story -- tragic, twisted and ultimately life affirming."

Lemmons’ first feature, Eve’s Bayou, starring Samuel L. Jackson, earned raves and was called the best film of 1997 by critic Roger Ebert. Her follow-up feature, Talk to Me, starred Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and was released by Focus Features. Lemmons is attached to direct Black Nativity for Fox Searchlight, but that project has been delayed due to problems casting the male lead.

She is scheduled to deliver the screenplay next month.

“We are thrilled to have Kasi onboard this project,” said Holzen. “It took a long deliberation to find the perfect person, and I can’t imagine the project with anyone else now.  Her previous projects have dealt with themes of social change, empowerment and love, which are our themes as well. Kasi is a formidable talent with a unique perspective that was essential to adapting this masterpiece.”

 

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