Kaluuya will play Esso, who is at the center of the film’s time-bending tale, producing the movie alongside Screen Arcade’s Eric Newman and Bryan Unkeless. Newman brought the novel to Netflix, which has acquired the worldwide rights to adapt it into a feature film. Fadugba serves as executive producer.
A brief synopsis of the film reads:
Esso is caught in a deadly feud and on the verge of expulsion when he realizes he has an unexpected gift: access to a world where he can see glimpses of the past and the future. A generation away, Rhia is walking to football practice in 2035, unaware that the mysterious stranger she’s about to meet desperately needs her help to avert a bullet fired 15 years ago.
“I can count on one hand the times I’ve connected with a novel so viscerally. It’s a rare feeling, made even more special when you also have the opportunity to bring such a story to life on film,” Netflix Film’s vice president Tendo Nagenda said in a statement. “Films can impact and expand the way people see and experience life. ‘The Upper World’ will be one of those films. I’m neither from the place nor ‘time’ depicted in the pages of the debut novel of physicist-turned-author Femi Fadugba. However, through staggeringly skilled storytelling, I was taken on a mind-and-heart altering adventure through the book’s characters and experiences.”
Nagenda continued: “I’m very fortunate to be able to work with some of the most seasoned industry veterans, but I also want to discover new voices and foster a new generation of talent. To take a chance on fresh voices like Femi who have a unique perspective and tell an unexpected story filled with exhilarating energy, wit and mind-expanding physics.”
“When I was at university, I wrote a quantum physics paper that got published in the same journal that Einstein shared many of his famous ideas in. It led to me receiving a national award and the unforgettable opportunity to make a speech at the House of Commons,” Fadugba said in a statement, recalling his inspirations for the story.
“On the same night as the speech, I came home to Peckham, where blue and white tape fenced off a crime scene on the estate. A kid had been stabbed. He was 15, tops,” Fadugba went on. “A 20-minute bus ride was all that separated those two completely different worlds. But throughout my life, I’ve also lived in places like Kigali, Somerset, Oxford and Philadelphia, which has always made me wonder: how do I reconcile these contrasting environments I grew up in with each other? And how do I make some of the tough questions in life ‘add up’ the way they do in these equations?”
“Then one day, came a mad realization – that I could combine the story of a kid from South London with the physics of time travel. And maybe even make it gripping enough that the nerds, the hustlers, the jocks (and the rest of us in between) would all want to read it,” he concluded. “And would all get it.”
“The Upper World” is Fadugba’s debut novel, and the first in a planned series. Penguin UK and HarperCollins US are expected to publish the follow-up novels in mid-2021 and early 2022, respectively.
Kaluuya is represented by CAA and Management 360. The actor previously executive produced last year’s “Queen & Slim” and stars as Fred Hampton in the upcoming “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
CAA represents Fadugba, in conjunction with Claire Wilson of the RCW Literary Agency, and brokered the rights deal with Netflix.