Steaming giant Netflix has picked up Filipino-American author Erin Entrada Kelly’s novel “Hello, Universe” to be adapted into a live-action movie.
Last year, Kelly received the prestigious John Newbery Medal—the highest literary prize for books for young readers—for “Hello, Universe,” published by Greenwillow Books in 2017.
“It’s difficult to find words to describe how this feels,” she told the Inquirer in an e-mail. And this is just the beginning of the journey! It’s surreal.”
Kelly said in 2018 that there was interest in adapting the novel but couldn’t say more. Now she can. “My film agent called me last year and said Netflix was interested in adapting the novel,” she said. “Everything went from there. Lots of phone calls, contracts and e-mails later, and here we are!”
“Hello, Universe” is about 11-year-old Filipino-American Virgil Salinas, who has disappeared because he has gone down a well to rescue his pet guinea pig Gulliver, who had been thrown into the well by the bully Chet Bullens. Virgil’s friends, Kaori (who may be psychic), Kaori’s younger sister Gen and Valencia (who is deaf) will try and find them. “Hello, Universe” is about the nature of friendship and adventure.
Kelly often includes Filipino themes in his work, and Virgil, for example, folk tales told by his Lola. Kelly’s mother is from Southern Leyte, and her father was originally from Kansas. Kelly is now based in Philadelphia. She visited the Philippines for the first time in 2018 as a guest speaker for the Philippine Readers and Writers Festival.
There are few details about the project as Kelly says they’re in the very early stages of developing the script. “I’ve been kept in the loop throughout the entire process. So far, it’s a great working relationship,” she said. “That said, I know nothing about screenwriting, films, or production, so I leave those elements to the experts.”
Keeping the Filipino elements—and the elements of diversity—of “Hello, Universe” is important to her. “The producers, screenwriter, and Netflix are dedicated to maintaining the diversity of the novel, including—but certainly not limited to—the Filipino elements. The screenwriter, Michael Golamco, is Filipino-American, and one of the producers, Nina Yang Bongiovi, is Chinese-American. They’re not only incredibly talented, but they also understand the importance of representation across all aspects of the book, including the character of Valencia, who is deaf.”
Fil-Am screenwriter Golamco also wrote the screenplay for the upcoming Netflix romantic comedy “Always Be My Maybe” starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. Another producer on “Hello, Universe” is the Hollywood actor and producer Forest Whitaker (“Black Panther,” “The Last King of Scotland”).
Kelly is the author of the novels “You Go First” (2018), “Land of the Forgotten Girls” (2016) and “Blackbird Fly” (2015). Kelly’s upcoming novel, “Lalani of the Distant Sea,” is due out in September from Greenwillow Books and also includes elements inspired by Filipino folklore.