Earlier this year, Pretoria-born Phumlani Pikoli sat down at Exclusive Books in Brooklyn Mall to discuss his debut novel: Born Freeloaders. The novel tells the tale of Xolani and Nthabiseng, siblings with parents linked to South Africa’s upper class. With the background of being born into the wealthier class of South Africans, Pikoli’s novel uses the youthful eyes of the siblings to comment on modern societal conflicts such as race and identity (and even teen dramatics). On 18 June, Pikoli announced on Instagram that his lauded novel will be adapted into a screenplay. PDBY spoke to Pikoli, to learn more about his up-and-coming screenplay.

Pikoli stated that his writing style in Born Freeloaders has been described as ‘filmic’, therefore the decision to adapt the novel into a screenplay format was a somewhat lucky achievement for him. He is working towards a film adaptation of the screenplay, the ultimate goal being for it to be viewed on the big screen.

On whether the current topics and themes of the novel make a screenplay adaptation more apt, or perhaps emphasise them against the born-free generation, Pikoli is uncertain. To him, ‘born-free’ “applies to anyone who has spent their primary schooling on the ‘right’ side of the apartheid divide”. Children in today’s age may also share the same experiences as the siblings in the novel. Pikoli continues: “we live in a world with multi medium access when it comes to information, and this will be another form of medium with which you can engage the story”.

The screenplay adaptation of Born Freeloaders is being co-penned by Jead Stehr and Dr. Kwasu ‘Baz’ Tembo, to provide the story with a set of “fresh lenses”. Additionally, these co-writers will be starring in the film. Pikoli also wittily remarks that “time is imminent” when asked about the finishing date of his screenplay.

With regard to the worldwide standstill as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pikoli sees this as a “huge pause button”. It is an opportunity to review his work more seriously, even if only fractionally. He is using the time of self-isolation to channel his energy into a screenplay, with an end result he is proud to have his name attached to.

As a writer and artist of many disciplines, it is fitting that Pikoli and his team bring his intellectual property to life, with his own unique creativity. The excitement of the novel itself was infectious at release. While the product of the screenplay is yet to be revealed, there is no doubt that the final product will be awaited in great anticipation.

Illustration: Giovanna Janos


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