Before we go further into this article, here are a few things you should know about the American playwright and screenwriter, Tony Kushner.
- He is a Pulitzer Prize winner, having received the honour in 1993 for his play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.
- He co-authored the screenplay for the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie Munich for which he received an Oscar nomination.
- His second film screenplay got him his second Oscar nomination, which was another Spielberg movie, Lincoln (2012). One of the highlights of the Academy Awards night was the warm praise eloquently bestowed upon Kushner by Daniel Day-Lewis in the latter’s acceptance winning speech (for Best Actor).
- He is someone not afraid of speaking out boldly. His plays have dealt with issues around homophobia, religion, and politics. His criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has also created some tensions in the past.
These brief points itself carve out a very interesting personality of Tony Kushner, and make me eager to know what’s next on his plate, at least as far as films are concerned. The good news is that we know now what Kushner would be working on.
Variety reports that Steven Spielberg has hired Tony Kushner to adapt the novel The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara written by David I. Kertzer. This is a work of non-fiction on an Italian Jew who was taken from his parents by the Papal State of Italy in 1858 so he to be raised as a Catholic. Here’s a brief synopsis of the book from Amazon.
Bologna: nightfall, June 1858. A knock sounds at the door of the Jewish merchant Momolo Mortara. Two officers of the Inquisition bust inside and seize Mortara’s six-year-old son, Edgardo. As the boy is wrenched from his father’s arms, his mother collapses. The reason for his abduction: the boy had been secretly “baptized” by a family servant. According to papal law, the child is therefore a Catholic who can be taken from his family and delivered to a special monastery where his conversion will be completed.
With this terrifying scene, prize-winning historian David I. Kertzer begins the true story of how one boy’s kidnapping became a pivotal event in the collapse of the Vatican as a secular power. The book evokes the anguish of a modest merchant’s family, the rhythms of daily life in a Jewish ghetto, and also explores, through the revolutionary campaigns of Mazzini and Garibaldi and such personages as Napoleon III, the emergence of Italy as a modern national state. Moving and informative, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara reads as both a historical thriller and an authoritative analysis of how a single human tragedy changed the course of history.
It is easy to see that this story can hold a lot of appeal for a director of the calibre of Steven Spielberg. It would allow the director to explore the ideologies and mindset of people of the past, the controversies that it created, the changes in society that it brought out, while packaging it possibly in the form of a thriller. The reason for us to be excited is for one, that this has Steven Spielberg associated with it, and two, it is a Spielberg-Kushner collaboration. The collaboration that gave us Munich and Lincoln, two movies that had historical backgrounds, and are exquisite works of art in filmmaking. In both these movies, you can see the quality that Kushner has brought in, be it the pace of the screenplay or the class of the dialogues.
Spielberg’s next film project though remains a mystery, narrowed down to either one of the following two movies, the science-fiction thriller Robopocalypse and the historical drama Montezuma. The first one is based on the novel by Daniel H. Wilson and was supposed to be Spielberg’s next film though there have been many delays in getting this one moving. The second movie will explore the relationship between the titular Aztec King and Spanish explorer Herman Cortes, whose travels to Mexican territory spurred waves of new explorations that brought an end to the Aztec empire. So there would be still a couple of years before The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara gathers the form and shape of a movie; as of now, it is still an idea being explored. But given that Kushner has been roped in to work on the screenplay, this is a project that Spielberg is definitely taking seriously. And even if it were to hit the theatres years from now, let’s hope it is as memorable a Spielberg-Kushner collaboration as the previous two!