Spike Lee has picked his next project: a movie adaptation of the graphic novel Prince of Cats, a hip-hop Romeo & Juliet. The Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman director has always kept an eye out for unique projects, and his love for music has long been a major part of his filmmaking.
Almost immediately after last year’s best adapted screenplay Oscar-win for BlacKkKlansman, Lee was in the news for his next project, the Vietnam era Da 5 Bloods. The new film is currently in post-production after shooting in Thailand and Vietnam and stars Black Panther lead Chadwick Boseman, Clarke Peters (His Dark Materials), and Giancarlo Esposito (The Mandalorian). Da 5 Bloods is a loose remake of the 1988 comedy The Wrong Guys; it follows five Vietnam War vets as they return to the jungles of the once war-torn nation in search of the innocence they lost there. At present there is no set release date for the film, but Netflix will be handling the drama’s eventual release. Never one to rest on his laurels, Lee has already moved on to his next project, this time choosing a subject and location a little closer to home.
According to THR, Lee has just signed on to direct an adaptation of Ron Wimberly’s 2012 graphic novel, Prince of Cats. Despite only having been released seven years ago, the book was out of print for four years before returning in 2016. News of Lee’s decision to adapt the book has only just broken as of this writing, but it has also been confirmed that the BlacKkKlansman director will write the script. Initially, actor Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out) was rumored to star in the film in the lead role of Tybalt, but he is no longer attached to the project.
The story behind Prince of Cats takes the classic William Shakespeare play Romeo & Juliet and transfers it to the world of 1980s New York City. Set in Da People’s Republic of Brooklyn, Tybalt and his Capulet brothers are the cousins of Juliet, and they spend their days brawling with the Montague family in the streets. While the weapon of choice appears to be katana swords, the young men also take to classic hip hop battle modes such as graffiti, breakdancing, DJing, and emceeing. As a proud Brooklynite himself, Lee came of age during this particularly fascinating era and therefore bore witness to the rise of hip hop as well as the utterly unique state that New York City found itself in at the time. It’s a personal history that can add the sort of legitimacy to the project that it needs.
Though the film apparently includes hip hop as an aspect of its storytelling, there is currently no information as to whether or not Prince of Cats will be a musical, incorporating hip hop in similar fashion to director Baz Luhrmann’s short-lived Netflix series, The Get Down. But given that New York City is the birthplace of hip hop and Prince of Cats is set during this exciting time, it could certainly add a fresh (but potentially risky) take on the poetry of Romeo & Juliet’s tragic and timeless tale.