Thursday, September 15, 2011

Don't you have to write it to own it?

In a seeming triumph of culture over commerce... of high art over pop art... of the little guy over the big, bad mogul... author Chinua Achebe has succeeded in forcing rapper 50 Cent to change the title of his upcoming movie.

As reported last week in the culture blog, Vulture (and HuffPo and EW, etc.) the facts lay out as follows:

In 1958, Achebe wrote what is widely acknowledged as the most read African novel of all time, titled "Things Fall Apart."

In 2010, 50 Cent wrote, produced and financed a film directed by Mario Van Peebles, about a football player diagnosed with cancer, also titled "Things Fall Apart."

In 2011, Achebe's lawyers contacted 50 Cent to rename his movie prior to its release. In response, 50 Cent offered Achebe $1 million to be allowed to use the title. Mr. Achebe's legal team refused 50 Cent's offer, saying "the novel with the said title was initially produced in 1958 (that is 17 years before [50] was born). [It is] listed as the most-read book in modern African literature, and won't be sold for even £1bn."

This is the point at which 50 Cent agreed to rename his movie “All Things Fall Apart.”

Were I 50 Cent, rather than acquiesce, I might instead have replied to Achebe's representatives, "tread softly, because you tread on my dreams," and then gently reminded them that Chinua Achebe took his title from a William Butler Yeats poem, "The Second Coming":

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...

I might have gone on to note that 50-some years ago, when Mr. Achebe's novel was about to be released, Yeats' legal team evidently declined to ask Mr. Achebe to re-title it, nor did they point out that "the poem with the said phrase was initially published in 1920 (that is 10 years before [Achebe] was born). It was written by one of the most venerable poets of the 20th century, and won't be sold for even £1tn."

"The worst are full of passionate intensity." Indeed.

(This post is dedicated to my big sister, who introduced me to Yeats, and to Achebe and Didion, and to a whole assortment of great authors — and who can recite this poem from memory.)

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