On Saturday June 2, author Alexandra Bracken and actor Amandla Stenberg joined in conversation at Book Con 2018 to talk about the upcoming film adaptation of the Darkest Minds.

In a spate of sci-fi/fantasy blockbuster movies (online reviewers have commented on the seeming similarity between this film and X-Men), The Darkest Minds is unique in that it has a largely female-led creative team. Based on a book by Alexandra Bracken and starring a young girl named Ruby (played by Stenberg), the adaptation is also directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson.

“[Nelson is] one of three women directing a major motion picture this year which is very sobering,” Bracken noted.

“I think somehting I like from Jennifer is just because she is so introverted and calm, there’s this kind of deep power that comes from that,” Stenberg said. “She didn’t necessarily have a need to assert herself on set because it was coming from within her. That was more effective than being a domineering male.”

The Darkest Minds is about a group of young people being hunted by the government because of their powers, something the moderator stated “has never been more relevant. Young people using their voice, harnessing their collective energy to really rise up against a government and adults who don’t have their best interests at heart.”

Since the Darkest Minds was originally published in 2012, a lot has changed in the world, and there are updates in the movie to reflect that. Stenberg talked about how special she felt to be cast as Ruby, even though the character wasn’t originally perceived as black. “The norm is usually when you read something like that to treat it as white, and so it felt really powerful to be cast.”

Bracken said that “Nelson told me ‘I have a vision and here’s who I want Ruby to be,’ and she sent me this beautiful shot of [Stenberg] and she was like ‘Do you see it?’ And I was like I see it! I see it!”

She continued, “For me what was more important was just the charactor and who would do the best job to bring that character to life. When I first spoke to Jen before they started the casting process I said you are welcome to cast anyone you like, you just cannot take any of the pre-existing representation out of the movie. And Jen is a woman of color. I was honestly relieved when she was brought on as the director because I knew having her helping the film diversity would always be at the center of it, and I wouldn’t be at any risk of having the characters whitewashed.”

Although the script was adapted by a male screenwriter, Chad Hodge, Bracken noted that he “loves to adapt stories that have strong female characters … So he understood Ruby. So I’m very comfortable with the changes” that he made.