Wattpad, Banijay's NL Film to Adapt Muslim YA Romance '36 Questions (And Lots of Coffee)'

'36 Questions (and lots of coffee)'
Wattpad

'36 Questions (and lots of coffee)'

Samya Hafsaoui’s romance tale was a hit on the storytelling app's Dutch platform.

Canadian storytelling app Wattpad and Dutch production house NL Film, a subsidiary of Banijay Group, will adapt Samya Hafsaoui’s Muslim romance story 36 Vragen (en heel veel koffie) [36 Questions (and lots of coffee)] as a feature film.

The YA romance tale was a hit on Wattpad's Dutch platform with more than 6,000 reads. Hafsaoui is a prominent journalist and television presenter in the Netherlands who is known for wearing the traditional headscarf, or hijab, on air.

36 Questions (and lots of coffee) follows Romaisa, a Dutch-Muslim woman whose family is entirely focused on the upcoming marriage of her sister, Loubna. Romaisa, however, is still struggling with the loss of her father, who recently died. When Loubna tries to set her sister up with a local barista named Julail, Romaisa finds he’s also caught between family expectations and his own happiness. Romaisa and Julail design a scheme to pretend they are dating to please their respective families. But things don't go exactly as planned.

Hafsaoui will co-write the film adaptation, along with an as-yet-undetermined co-writer.

"So many North-American and European stories about Muslim communities, especially Muslim girls, are told by people who don’t understand the lived experiences of Muslims," Hafsaoui said in a statement. "The love stories with Muslim characters usually force women to make a choice between love and faith: the girl falls in love with a white non-Muslim boy, she fights with her family, struggles with her faith, takes off her hijab, and chooses the boy. That storyline functions as a symbol for newly gained freedom. But I am a Muslim girl, and I see myself as empowered with my hijab on. Why do we have to choose between love, faith, and values that in real life merge perfectly with the places we call home? With 36 Vragen (en heel veel koffie), I wanted a story that firmly establishes characters as human and as authentic as possible from an #OwnVoices perspective. It’s a feel-good love story between two Muslims, for everyone. And this time, the hijab stays on."

36 Questions (and lots of coffee) will be the first major project between NL Film and Wattpad, who signed an exclusive Dutch-language partnership in 2019 to develop local-language YA stories from the online platform. The two companies said the project was part of a deliberate move to increase representation for Muslim communities in the romance genre.

NL Film’s Kaja Wolffers, Sabine Brian, and Ronald Versteeg will produce 36 Questions (and lots of coffee) alongside Wattpad’s Aron Levitz, Muriel Rosilio, and Carla Zeller.

"One of our main objectives in working with Wattpad was finding stories that are underrepresented in the mainstream media," said Kaja Wolffers, creative director and producer at NL Film. "In 36 vragen (en heel veel koffie) by Samya Hafsaoui, we found a story that is so authentic and also has a very clear voice. This story is not written with the white frame on how a story about a Muslim girl is normally told, but from the perspective of a writer who is a Muslim woman herself, who has a very clear opinion on inclusivity and wants to see and read content she is represented by."

Wattpad said users of its platform this year spent more than 78 million minutes reading stories tagged #MuslimLoveStory and associated tags and that the #MuslimLoveStory tagged tales also saw a 113 percent increase in reading time from 2019 to 2020.

"36 Vragen (en heel veel koffie) is a groundbreaking project and, ultimately, a statement: that entertainment needs more and better representation for the many different communities, voices, and experiences that make up the world," said Aron Levitz, Head of Wattpad Studios.

Wattpad currently has more than 70 projects in development around the world, including the final two features in the After franchise, based on the YA romance books by Anna Todd.