After over a year of negotiations, much back and forth and the occasional pang of doubt, Long Beach author Myriam Gurba received a piece of exciting news last week via text: her book “Mean” would get its network television moment.
TriStar Television, a television label within Sony Pictures Television and subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment, chose to option her 2017 memoir for its TV debut.
“I’m surprised, very surprised. And also happy. And even more than surprised, kind of shocked,” Gurba, 44, said.
Given that development is just getting started, Gurba couldn’t offer word on premiere plans or casting, except that the series would be an adaptation of her acclaimed book, which in industry terms, means it could go in just about any direction. What’s more, “Mean” employs a non-linear narrative, which poses some challenges in translating to picture, Gurba said.
Published with Coffee House Press, “Mean” is Gurba’s memoir about her coming-of-age story as a queer mixed-race Chicana growing up in Santa Maria, California. The book details her journey coming to terms with her sexuality, race and identity, underpinned by her own experience of sexual assault from a stranger as a young college student in the early 1990s.
“Mean” is also a part true-crime story, as we learn that Gurba’s assaulter went on to brutally rape and kill an itinerant worked named Sophia Torres.
Glowing reviews of Gurba’s book marvel at her masterful and use of language and unflinching application of humor and wit to explore the cultural complexities and indignities of misogyny, gender-based violence and racism while also illustrating the world-shifting experiences women face in the aftermath of assault.
Given “Mean’s” heavy subject matter, Gurba described some nervous feelings at relinquishing power over her personal story to the network, but added that she will have a hand in shaping the narrative, though in what capacity she isn’t sure yet.
“And that’s important for me because very often sexual trauma is treated very salaciously when translated for screen, and I don’t want that to happen with these stories,” she explained.
Sony Pictures Entertainment could not confirm Gurba’s role or provide any details about the forthcoming television series.
Several television executives expressed interest in transforming “Mean” to screen not long after her book was published, Gurba said, but for personal reasons said she couldn’t move forward with a deal.
Years went by, circumstances changed, and Gurba revisited the idea, finding a fitting partnership with TriStar executive Christina Jokanovich, whose co-producing credits include “True Blood” and “Banshee.”
Working with a female executive was important to her, Gurba said, but she ultimately gravitated toward the executive because of their similar backgrounds.
“She has Mexican ancestry and she’s also from Southern California,” Gurba said, adding that they both grew up with parents who were schoolteachers. Gurba taught AP Psychology at Poly High School until last year. “So those personal connections and those personal parallels mattered to me. And she’s maintained a high level of interest and she was very curious. I appreciated that.”
Gurba went on to say that Jokanovich “seemed really excited about the Mexican ancestry angle,” and felt confident that she would take care to maintain “Mean’s” cultural specificity, a point with which Gurba recognizes both the publishing and TV/film industries often fall short. Many still might remember Gurba’s scathing criticism of the stereotypical portrayals of Mexican people and culture in the highly praised novel “American Dirt” by White author Jeanne Cummings in 2019.
With few details and answers to give on what to expect when “Mean” comes to screen, Gurba said she’s excited and looking forward to sharing her work with a wider audience, but that she is committed to upholding the integrity of her work.
“I’m really committed to telling the stories of survivors in ways that are not cliched and in ways that honor the full complexity and humanity of survivors,” she said.
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