At the close of one of the wildest, most hotly-contested rights auctions in recent memory—in which 17 different bidders duked it out for the film and TV rights to Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half—HBO has emerged victorious. The streaming giant will pay a low seven-figure sum for the book, which Bennett herself will develop into a limited series.
Bennet’s acclaimed sophomore novel, which stormed to the summit of the New York Times bestseller list upon release earlier this month, focuses on the Vignes sisters, identical twins who, after growing up together in a small, southern black community, run away at age sixteen. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, hiding her identity from her husband, who knows nothing of her past.
It’s pretty rare these days to see a work of literary fiction by a young author (Bennett was born in 1990 . . . sigh) acquired for this kind of money. The kind of astronomical sums paid by production companies to, say, Emma Cline (The Girls) or Garth Risk Hallberg (City on Fire) in the lit fic arms race of the mid-to-late 2010s, appear to be a thing of the past. These days, when you hear the words “seven-figure rights deal,” chances are solid that David Grann has just sold the rights to another long-form New Yorker article to Hollywood. Still, there are always exceptions, and this is a particularly welcome one.