Canadian director Deepa Mehta adapts Shyam Selvadurai’s gay coming-of-age novel Funny Boy for Netflix

Mehta brings the Toronto author’s 1994 novel to the screen and dives deep into the bloody tensions in Sri Lanka

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      The new Deepa Mehta film, Funny Boy, has found a home on Netflix.

      The film is a union between two mighty South Asian artists from Toronto. The Water director has adapted Sri Lankan-Canadian author Shyam Selvadurai’s classic 1994 coming-of-age novel about a gay Tamil child who is struggling to embrace his sexuality during the period leading up to Sri Lanka’s civil war.

      Funny Boy will debut on Netflix on December 10. When They See Us director Ava DuVernay announced the news on Thursday. DuVernay and Tilane Jones are releasing the film via their distribution company Array Releasing.

      For years, Array’s brand has been seeking out authentic BIPOC voices and stories and giving them a platform. Array has already built a remarkable roster with films like The Burial Of Kojo, Residue, and Canada’s The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open.

      Mehta co-wrote the Funny Boy screenplay with Selvadurai and shot the film on location in Sri Lanka. It’s far from her first trip to the country. The director sought refuge in Sri Lanka after Hindu fundamentalists protested and ransacked the Indian set of Water in 2000. Mehta has since shot Water, Midnight Children, and Funny Boy in Sri Lanka.

      We’ll see if she’ll be welcomed back after her provocative new film. Funny Boy could be controversial, and not only because the film is about embracing homosexuality. It’s a story about gay self-love, first and foremost. But it also wades deep into the tensions between the Tamil and Sinhala communities in Sri Lanka, which gave way to a devastating 26-year war. That war is the reason myself, Selvadurai’s family and hundreds of thousands of Tamils sought refuge in Canada. Selvadurai is half-Tamil, half-Sinhalese.

      Funny Boy more resonant than ever

      As the film’s protagonist Arjie (portrayed by Arush Nand as a child and Brandon Ingram as a teen) makes sense of his sexuality, he also navigates the hostilities between his wealthy Tamil family and the community that surrounds them in Colombo. Funny Boy covers everything from the neighbourhood racial hostilities, systemic labour discrimination, brutal vigilante attacks, and finally Black July, the 1983 Anti-Tamil pogrom that killed up to 3,000 people.

      Last year, Sri Lankans elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has been accused of war crimes, as president. A decade prior, he led the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in what has been described as a genocide against Tamil people. Suffice to say, reconciliation on that island isn’t going so good.

      “In many ways, Funny Boy reflects the times of divisiveness we are living in today,” Mehta said in a statement.  “The call for a just society, a call for humanity is finally being heard.”

      “Deepa Mehta’s Funny Boy builds upon the iconic filmmaker’s provocative canon of work as a film that is beautiful to the eye and emotional for the heart,” said DuVernay and Jones in a joint statement. “Her singular vision for adapting this best-selling novel invites film lovers to delve deep into themes of identity, acceptance and family, while she shares the majesty and turmoil of Sri Lanka during this particular time in history.”