13 August 2020
Femi Fadugba. You may not know his name, but once you’ve read The Upper World you won’t be able to forget it. That’s what happened to me after producer Eric Newman (Bright, Project Power) introduced me to the book. 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.
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.
In The Upper World, Esso finds himself caught in the middle of 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.
The Upper World is the first in a planned series of novels. Penguin UK and HarperCollins US are expected to publish the book in mid-2021 and early 2022 respectively.
In the film, Esso, will be played by Academy Award nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Queen & Slim, Black Panther). Kaluuya will also produce the film alongside Eric Newman and Bryan Unkeless for Screen Arcade, and Femi will serve as executive producer.
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.
I could continue to share just how inspired I am about making this project, but there’s no one else better than the author himself to explain the inspiration behind this unique and powerful story. Get ready to explore The Upper World.
-Tendo Nagenda, Vice President, Netflix Films
An Introduction to The Upper World from Femi Fadugba:
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.
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.
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.
And would all get it.
My novel, The Upper World, is a contemporary story set in Peckham, London that follows 16-year-old Esso over a school day. Close to getting expelled, and caught up in a life-threatening feud, Esso receives an unexpected gift – access to a world where he can see glimpses of the past and the future. I explain his powers using physics, meaning the audience gets to uncover new concepts alongside Esso, whose life literally depends on them.
With Netflix bringing the film adaptation to audiences around the world, I'm excited about the impact the story can have. I'd love to one day see teachers putting the book on their summer reading lists. I'd love to help create a world where when people talk about the new Cardi B, Giggs or C.S song, they mention the ideas in The Upper World as part of the culture as well.
I guess it's fair to say I'm hopeful for the future. Life, the universe – it all feels a little bit closer to adding up.
-Femi Fadugba, Author