Movie ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ competes with reports on author Delia Owens – NPR | WHs Answers

A mystery hangs over the author of Where the Crawdads Sing, which has now been made into a movie.

Michele K. Short/Sony Pictures

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Michele K. Short/Sony Pictures

A mystery hangs over the author of Where the Crawdads Sing, which has now been made into a movie.

Michele K. Short/Sony Pictures

Where the crayfish sing tells the fictional story of Kya, a girl growing up on a North Carolina bayou in the 1950s and 60s. “The swamp girl”, as she is known, is reviled and shunned by those in the nearby town. In time, Kya is brought to justice for murder. Now there is a film adaptation of the novel by an author with a mysterious past.

It took wildlife scientist Delia Owens a decade to write it Where the crayfish sing. Her first novel is now on the New York Times Best-seller list for 168 weeks (at the top most of the time). Actress Reese Witherspoon loved it so much that she added it to her popular book club and produced the new film adaptation.

“It just blew my mind,” Witherspoon told CBS Sunday morning. “It felt like reading Killing a mockingbird or just any kind of classic Southern literature. It overlays that thriller element, there’s a murder…”

And murder — real murder in the mid-1990s — is the big elephant in the room. With the film’s release, news resurfaced that 73-year-old Owens is still being questioned by Zambian authorities as a possible witness, co-conspirator and accomplice to federal crimes. At the time, she and her then-husband Mark were living in Zambia as animal rights activists, trying to save elephants from poachers.

Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg first wrote about it for The New Yorker in 2010, and more recently: The Atlantic magazine, where he is now editor-in-chief. His reporting suggests the Owens organized a brutal operation to go after anyone who posed a threat to the elephant sanctuary. In fact, an ABC news team that documented the Owens’ work in 1995 actually caught the execution of a suspected poacher.

“Poachers’ bodies are often left where they fell for the animals to eat,” narrator Meredith Viera said on the show turning point. “Conservation. Morality. Africa.”

You can hear the shots, but the unidentified man’s shooter was never seen on camera, a body was never found and no one has been officially charged with a crime. According to Jeffrey Goldberg, some witnesses are said to have implicated Mark Owens and his son Christopher. But the journalist says her lawyers have issued statements denying the murder. He quoted Delia Owens saying she had nothing to do with it.

For months, the film’s publicists have told me that the writer could not be reached for comment. The news continues to hang over the film like Spanish moss over a murky bayou.

Writing and singing on the film’s soundtrack, Taylor Swift said on Instagram she wanted to “create something haunting and ethereal that fits this fascinating story.” But she faced backlash on social media for her involvement in the film. In an interview, the director and the star of the film told me they knew nothing about this part of Delia Owens’ past, although they said she has a cameo in the film.

Instead, they talked about isolation and resilience Where the crayfish sing resonated with readers, especially as the coronavirus pandemic left many alone.

“There’s this big crime thriller that keeps you flipping through,” said director Olivia Newman. “There’s this survival story and this observation of nature articulated so beautifully by a scientist. There’s that epic romance that offers some escape from some of the harsher realities of our lives. And that’s why I think it was so wonderful, especially during a pandemic, to go into that world and that was the hope for the film. That was the hope for the film, to create the same kind of world that you didn’t want to leave.”

British actress Daisy Edgar-Jones, who plays Kya in the film, said she met author Delia Owens while they were filming on location in the New Orleans swamps.

“Actually filming in these amazing bayous and swamps with Spanish moss and the sound of cicadas, oh it was just absolutely magical,” she said. “We had crazy thunderstorms and lightning storms, and eventually the set got flooded. We had alligators on the banks and snake fighters. And it was exactly as if it was a product of my imagination.”

Edgar-Jones says Delia Owens encouraged her to enjoy portraying the main character.

“Kya is a very complex character,” she said. “She is very strong and resilient. But she is also a very curious and gentle creature. And I think that kind of mix of things I found really interesting about her because she’s complicated, like so many of us.”

Early reviews of Where the crayfish sing were mixed. Whether questions about the author overshadow the film remains to be seen.

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