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Why the ELEANOR & PARK Movie is So Important

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Kit Steinkellner

Staff Writer

Kit Steinkellner is a playwright, screenwriter, and creative writing teacher. She also writes about books and reading  at Books Are My Boyfriends. Follow her onTwitter: @BooksAreMyBFs

I am so excited for the Eleanor & Park movie. I’m not just excited to see it (I ate the book up with a spoon and a fork like it was the most delicious of desserts, of course I’m excited to see it) I’m excited for it to EXIST. Let me go ahead and break down why.

It’s no secret that YA book-to-film adaptations have become, like, a thing. The success of the Harry Potter film franchise gave way to the Twilight franchise which gave way to the Hunger Games franchise which is now giving way to the Divergent franchise and on and on it goes. These fantasy and dystopian stories all are brands with huge built-in audiences and they all resemble big summer blockbusters (Action sequences! Sometimes there’s kissing!) which is why they were relatively easy to get through Hollywood Development Hell and they feature a host of young, skinny/fit, conventionally attractive white actors, another reason they were so easy to make. Sometimes there’s an actor of color who’s moderately important to the narrative (Taylor Lautner in Twilight, Amandla Stenberg in Hunger Games, Zoe Kravitz in Divergent). For the most part, though, these adaptations are white as heck, and the leads of these films could all pose in their underwear and no one would say anything mean about their stomachs or thighs or the undersides of their arms.

A new subgenre of the YA book-to-film adaptation has emerged over the past year, the Real Kids With Real Problems and the Girl is Always Shailene Woodley School of Filmmaking. Of course I’m talking about last summer’s The Spectacular Now (in which ShaiWood costars with Miles Teller) and this summer’s The Fault in Our Stars (in which she shares billing with Ansel Elgort). The first film features teens dealing with addiction, the second, terminal illness. It’s good, important, worthy stuff. These leads are also super white with super-accepted body types (yes, Shailene’s character in TFIOS has an oxygen tank and Ansel’s character has a fake leg, but these actors are still going to show up to their premieres looking conventionally hot). These are still stories worth telling. But when it comes to casting, it’s not a surprise that we’re seeing the same faces over and over again (Woodley, Elgort, and Teller also star in Divergent). These movies, by using the same actors over and over again are telling movie audiences: “These are people whose stories are worth telling. If you look like this person, your story is worth telling. If you don’t…um… it’s like… I don’t know what to tell you, dude.”

Eleanor and Park, the eponymous leads of Rainbow Rowell’s breakout YA novel, cannot be played by Shailene Woodley or Ansel Elgort or Miles Teller or any of the leads of the aforementioned adaptations. Park is half-Korean, and Eleanor is overweight. They are not going to look like any teen romantic movie leads in the history of ever. There’s a lot of diversity in YA literature these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more diversity in YA than in any other genre of literature. This makes sense, it’s a lucrative genre, the money allows conventions to be broken and risks to be taken. Still, the books that have survived the book-to-film adaptation all share in common status quo casting. It’s impossible to do E&P with status quo casting. The film is going to have to bring in new talent. That new talent is going to be on billboards and in commercials and in pop-up ads. Every time we see these faces, we’re going to see that this is what a leading lady and a leading man can look like. When audiences attend the film they’re going to see that this is what a great love story can look like.

The reason Eleanor & Park is being made into a movie is because it sold a bananas amount of books. Readers voted with their credit cards and library cards. Hollywood, as much as it hates to be progressive, can’t ignore a cash cow. Readers supported a different kind of love story and readers won and now film audiences are going to win too. I know the title of this post is “Why the Eleanor and Park Movie is So Important,” but it could also be called “Why Readers are So Important Not Just to Books BUT TO THE WORLD!!!!!” We are what gets books turned into movies, and when we choose inclusive stories to support en masse, we are not only shaping the publishing industry, but the entertainment industry at large.

I’m not going to get too excited just yet, because I know how long it takes for things to REALLY change, but I can’t help but be a little bit excited right now, because things ARE changing.

What are your thoughts on the E&P adaptation? Are you as excited as me? More, maybe? Tell me a story.