A bisexual, biracial Yale graduate travels to Africa with her white best friend. When they reach an island off the shore of Kenya, she falls in love with a Swahili Muslim man. As in any love story deserving of such a name, the couple’s happiness is threatened by external difficulties and internal insecurities. Kenya is an earthly hell under President Moi, and the great social and cultural divide between the protagonists only complicate the situation more. This is the catchy synopsis for Rebecca Walker’s novel Adé, published just last year and already popular enough to have caught the serious attention of Bruce Cohen Production (American Beauty, Silver Linings Playbook) and –drum roll – Madonna as a director.
It shouldn’t be all that surprising for those who are familiar with the work of the Material Girl. The novel touches on a wide and complex range of topics that she has addressed in her songs before: sexuality, religion, race. However, something that only passionate moviegoers or hardcore fans might already be thinking of with such a premise is that Madonna has for ages now taken a great deal of interest in the art of filmmaking, both in front and behind the camera. This time we will again get to see her in the role of director, just like in Filth and Wisdom (2008) and W.E. (2011). Given these two films, the themes of Adé really sound like Madonna’s cup of tea.
Filth and Wisdom premiered at the Berlin film festival but did not receive many positive reviews. It’s a comedy/romance/musical about a Ukrainian dominatrix and his two flat-mates. The press agreed on crushing Madonna’s first effort without any display of sympathy, as shown by an article in The Guardian: “Madonna has been a terrible actor in many, many films and now – fiercely aspirational as ever – she has graduated to being a terrible director.” W.E. surely had a better plot: based on true events, it tells the love story of the American divorcée Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, who abdicated the UK throne to be with her. This big, romantic, historical fairytale is framed by a woman’s journey to discover New York.
Adé deals with themes Madonna is already familiar with and the news that the production is looking for a screenwriter to adapt the novel is quite reassuring. It might be a nice change not to have the pop star playing with the script for once. What we can hope for is that Madonna will make treasure from her experiences as and actress for this new feature. In 2002, she starred in Swept Away by Guy Ritchie, her then-husband. The movie tells the story of an unlikely couple on a desert island who end up having an affair. Again, Adé seems to have some similarities with it.
Madonna is without a doubt an artist who has changed the music industry and is the living personification of a pop icon. However, this might not be enough to be a woman in the arts, especially art that should be made “for the right reasons”. Filmmaking, good filmmaking, isn’t just another way to make money and acquire popularity, especially when women have so much to prove to their male colleagues who dominate cinema. At a time when so many female directors and screenwriters are struggling to make a name for themselves, it is upsetting to see that production companies still prefer to have faith in a name written in shining lights than in actual talent. The material may seem prime for the Material Girl, but we’ll have to wait and see if this new love story fares better than her two previous duds.
Article by Giulia Rho