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The Sun Is Also a Star’s biggest changes reflect a timely conversation on diversity

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Director Ry Russo-Young explains how details make all the difference when portraying reality

Warner Brothers Pictures

Though the heart of The Sun Is Also a Star, a new film based on the popular YA novel of the same name, is a love story between the two main characters, the film tells a greater story of immigration and culture, as it takes place in the two days leading up to Jamaican-born Natasha’s impending deportation.

In the book, the deportation is caused after Natasha’s father winds up with a DUI. The movie sheds this angle with a more straightforward, timely approach: a random ICE raid at his workplace outs him as an undocumented immigrant.

Director Ry Russo-Young spoke to Polygon about the changes from book to screen. She notes that the original version of the script was very much true to book, but as they worked through drafts and consulted experts, some things had to change.

“To be completely frank, we felt like it portrayed [Natasha’s father] Samuel in a negative light because he was a drunk driver and there are stereotypes about African Americans being alcoholics that we didn’t want to perpetuate,” explained Russo-Young. “We also found that a little bit of immigration kind of goes a long way. It’s a piece of the story that’s really important and important to get right. But we found that when it was over explained, it almost became more complicated and opened up a can of worms. The heart of the story is actually about a love story between the two characters.”

Even though the complexities surrounding the Kingsley family’s deportation were trimmed from the movie in order to focus on the connection between the two characters, telling a story that revolves around illegal immigration isn’t something done lightly. In between the three years of the book and the movie, a lot has shifted in the cultural climate surrounding conversations and stories about immigration and deportation.

“We had an immigration lawyer who was a consultant in terms of getting it all right,” said Russo-Young. “I worked really closely with him in terms of sending him the script and getting his thoughts and notes and having him change words and specifics because we really wanted to do justice to that part of the story.”

Warner Brothers Pictures

The movie and its subject matter speak to larger trend at play. Adaptations of popular young adult novels are nothing new (Russo-Young points to Twilight as starting the multi-decade trend), but the genre and tone of the books published — and the books adapted — has shifted over time.

“We kind of had the post-apocalyptic period. You had the Divergent movies and the Hunger Games and all of that kind of world. Now we’re getting into a slightly more humanistic portrayal of people. I think that the diversity aspect is a huge piece of that,” said Russo-Young. “It’s the world we live in. Movie studios and directors and authors — that’s what we’re trying to do, just reflect the world that we live in, which is an extremely diverse place.”

The young adult romance is back, but this time with an eye towards diversity. With large YA movements like We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices calling for more representation in the book sphere, the film adaptations also shift, with movies like Love, Simon and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before sparking a greater conversation in Hollywood.

The Sun Is Also a Star finds ways to be reflective of the real America, not just in the romantic leads and their families as they were in the book, but the characters they encounter and the extras who populate the background. Minor characters with unspecified races in the book were all cast with actors of color.

“The movie — and the book, too — is a celebration of love in a sense, but also of New York City. And New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world. It is truly a melting pot of immigrants that come from everywhere,” said Russo-Young. “I do feel like to kind of show the city in all its glory and to do justice to the story, you really want to get a sense of every single person is an immigrant and has a story that we go follow.”