The team behind “God’s Country,” a neo-western thriller set to premiere at the virtual Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, stressed how reimagining the film’s protagonist revolutionized a decades-old tale.

“God’s Country” is based on “Winter Light,” a short story by James Lee Burke. Set in the frozen wilderness of Montana, the film follows a college professor who confronts two trespassing hunters. In Burke’s original story, the main character is a white man — but the writers of “God’s Country” chose to change the professor to a Black woman named Sandra Guidry (Thandiwe Newton) in the film.

The choice “changes the movie just because of who is now at the center of it [and] the way people react to this woman,” Shaye Ogbonna, one of the writers of “God’s Country,” told senior culture and events editor Marc Malkin in Variety’s Virtual Sundance Studio presented by Audible. “Once you made that change, it opened up the movie… The world opened up because now we’re looking at this outsider — you look at her and you see she’s different from everything else in this world… It gave us opportunities to go beyond the original source material.”

Director and co-writer Julian Higgins, who also worked on the short film adaptation of “Winter Light” in 2014, emphasized that Newton was perfect for the role of Sandra. “It was so clear to me that [Newton was] the person,” he said.

Newton plans for “God’s Country” to be the last movie she acts in. The actress noted that the movie carries multiple powerful messages. The Sandra in “God’s Country” is named after Sandra Bland, a Black activist who died in police custody days after being arrested at a traffic stop in 2015.

“I’ve been supporting Kimberly Crenshaw’s work with the African American policy forum and movement #SayHerName, which she coined. And in this movie, right from the get-go, we are saying her name,” said Newton. “I don’t just mean Sandra Bland. I’m talking about all of the Sandra Blands — now, in the past [with] slavery [and] before that.”

Hear more from the conversation in the video above.