Monday, January 12, 2015

Rena Pederson's "The Burma Spring"

Rena Pederson, an award-winning journalist, is a faculty member at Southern Methodist University. She previously served as Director of Communications for the National Math and Science Initiative and as a Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications at the U.S. Department of State, serving as a senior speechwriter. She also received national recognition as Vice President and Editorial Page Editor at The Dallas Morning News for 16 years.

Here Pederson shares some ideas for an adaptation of her new book, The Burma Spring: Aung San Suu Kyi and the New Struggle for the Soul of a Nation:
It would be fun to imagine who could play the key roles if a movie were made of my new book The Burma Spring – but in a way, someone already has. The lovely actress Michele Yeoh played Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in the biopic The Lady, which was released in 2011. Yeoh looked amazingly like the democracy icon and captured her earnest sense of duty. The only other actress that I can imagine doing as well might be Lucy Liu, who is having a good run on TV now playing Dr. Watson in the updated Sherlock Holmes series Elementary. With her tightly coiled intelligence, Liu could probably nail Suu Kyi’s iron resolve and personal reserve.

That said, those who want a cinematic introduction to the charismatic democracy champion’s story would do well to check The Lady out. The film was directed by French director Luc Besson, who is better known for directing action movies like Lucy, The Fifth Element, and La Femme Nikita. The Lady was a departure for him and obviously a labor of love. The film didn’t win over the critics, but it did win recognition in several international film festivals and honors from human rights groups. Overall, it does a good job of dramatizing the beginning of Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to reform the brutal military government in Burma (also known today as Myanmar).

The difference between my book and the movie is that The Lady focuses primarily on Suu Kyi’s relationship with her late husband Michael Aris, an Oxford professor who is played by David Thewlis. My book reveals more of her remarkable personal backstory. For example, her father General Aung San was a feisty World War II hero and the father of the modern independence movement in Burma. Her mother Khin Kyi was a brave nurse who became the ambassador to India. Their family story has a Gone with the Wind sweep of war and romance, duty and valor.

Then there’s a profile of the villain of the story – General Than Shwe, who held Burma in his grip for much of the last two decades. He oversaw the killings of thousands of villagers, the massacres of democracy activists, as well as the use of child soldiers and the spread of the narcotics trade.

My book also provides a timely update to Suu Kyi’s story – what has happened since she was freed from 15 years of house arrest in 2010. After she was released, Suu Kyi was elected to Parliament and is leading efforts to expand democracy in the 2015 elections. She would like to run for President to make more widespread reforms. However, the military still controls the country and has imposed a constitutional provision that bars her from serving. So Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle for democracy is not over yet.

That means there could be another movie made – but in the meantime, it would be best to read my book to find out the rest of the story.
Learn more about the book and author at Rena Pederson's website and Facebook page. Watch the trailer for The Lady.

--Marshal Zeringue