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Bestsellers: Director Michelle Latimer calls for Indigenous talent to adapt Indigenous work

Michelle Latimer (Hayden Wolf)

This fall, director Michelle Latimer is unveiling adaptations of two perennial Canadian bestsellers, both by Indigenous authors. Trickster brings Eden Robinson’s supernatural coming-of-age series to CBC Television with a six-episode first season. Inconvenient Indian is an artful documentary inspired by Thomas King’s Indigenous-focused critique of U.S. and Canadian history (The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America). Both will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival with Trickster airing on CBC Oct. 7.

The books have proven consistent juggernauts at independent bookstores: Robinson’s Son of a Trickster has been on Bookmanager’s Paperback Fiction chart for 22 weeks while King’s The Inconvenient Indian has been on Bookmanager’s Canadiana chart for an astounding 320 weeks. Latimer – a Métis/Algonquin writer, director, and actor – reflects on adapting work by Canadian literary heroes and bringing Indigenous voices to film and television.

Trickster (Courtesy of CBC)

Did you initially seek out TV rights for the Trickster series?
I did. There were multiple other companies also fishing around for the rights. I couldn’t afford the rights on my own and I was lamenting how Indigenous artists can’t afford the rights to books in their own communities. I paired with Sienna Films and we went in on the rights together.

We put a proposal together that Eden really liked, and she liked it because of the Indigenous participation. We had Indigenous writers and Indigenous creatives and Indigenous producers. The other companies didn’t have that.

What has your interaction with the authors been like?
It’s been interesting to see the authors say, “I wrote the book; you make the movie. I’m here to support you and I’m here for you to bounce ideas off of if you need me, but I am also fully happy for you to make this your own.” That kind of room was really important in creating both of those projects.

Both books are already huge bestsellers. What audience would you like the projects to reach?
I personally never saw my community represented in television when I was younger. For Trickster, I wanted young people to see a contemporary representation. With Thomas’s book, I wanted to celebrate what was happening in Indigenous culture right now that a lot of people are probably unaware of.

Inconvenient Indian

What does the success of these two books say to you?
When I look at bestseller lists I am always struck by how many Indigenous authors are on them. We have been celebrating Indigenous authors for a long time. There are systemic reasons why that hasn’t happened on screen, but I do think it is starting to shift as we see more Indigenous creatives stepping behind the camera to tell these stories.

The cautionary tale, the “trickster” tale, is that as these stories prove profitable, that will attract people who maybe shouldn’t be telling these stories. When you love those Indigenous stories, go to those Indigenous production companies, go to those Indigenous writers and producers and directors to say, “How can we do this?” Because the biggest question that we have to ask ourselves is “Am I the right person to tell this story?”

TOP 15: Paperback Fiction (Aug. 30–Sept. 5)
Data based on reports from 225 independent Canadian bookstores, as collected by Bookmanager.

  1. American Dirt: A Novel, Jeanine Cummins (Flatiron Books)
  2. Normal People: A Novel, Sally Rooney (Knopf Random Vintage Canada)
  3. Son of a Trickster, Eden Robinson (Knopf Canada)
  4. Greenwood: A Novel, Michael Christie (McClelland & Stewart)
  5. Hamnet and Judith, Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf Random Vintage Canada)
  6. Girl, Woman, Other: A Novel, Bernardine Evaristo (Grove/Atlantic)
  7. The Guest List: A Novel, Lucy Foley (HarperCollins)
  8. A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel, Amor Towles (Penguin Books)
  9. The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel (HarperCollins)
  10. Songs for the End of the World, Saleema Nawaz (McClelland & Stewart)
  11. Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel, Celeste Ng (Penguin Two)
  12. The Overstory: A Novel, Richard Powers (W.W. Norton & Company)
  13. Circe, Madeline Miller (Little, Brown and Company)
  14. The Dutch House: A Novel, Ann Patchett (HarperCollins)
  15. Dune, Frank Herbert (Penguin)