How Journal For Jordan’s Screenwriter Used His Real-Life Experience With Colorism To Create The Movie’s Most Powerful Scene

Michael B. Jordan in A Journal For Jordan
(Image credit: Sony)

A Journal For Jordan tells the true story of war hero Charles Monroe King through the eyes of his fiancé, Dana Canedy, who decided to give her love a blank journal to give to their son Jordan in the event of his death. After the soldier tragically died when an IED detonated near his armored vehicle in Iraq, Canedy was sent back a full journal with words of wisdom for her son. In one of the most powerful scenes in the Denzel Washington-directed movie, the film discusses the nuance of Jordan growing up as a light-skinned Black man and the posthumous advice given to him from his father. 

The screenplay for A Journal For Jordan was written by Virgil Williams, who famously earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing 2018’s Mudbound. Williams adapted Dana Canedy’s 2009 memoir into the new movie starring Michael B. Jordan. While speaking to CinemaBlend, the screenwriter shared his own ties to Jordan when writing the film. In his words: 

Me and Jordan kind of look alike. I mean he's a light-skinned cat like me and light eyed, so [author Dana Canedy] knew that I understood personally what he was going through on that level. And I think that that was another serendipitous gift, which this movie experience had many for me.

During our Zoom interview, Virgil Williams shared that he was given the A Journal For Jordan memoir amidst the award nominations he was receiving for Mudbound. When he first read Dana Canedy’s story, he recalls being in the “throes of struggling” with depression and unable to bear the sadness of the war hero story. However, when Williams’ wife read it, she thought he was the perfect person to adapt the story. 

Through the process of penning the Journal For Jordan screenplay, Virgil Williams recalled that he started to “heal” through the telling of the story. One key scene in the movie sees a young Jordan coming home from school upset from being bullied at school for being light-skinned and Black. Williams described how the scene was written: 

I created that scene for that passage. They never told me about a time where Jordan had been called those things or he'd gotten into a fight, but that passage was powerful. That passage was personal to me. You know, I felt like Charles was also speaking to me in that moment and empowering me in that moment as a grown man, because that passage is real. So it was important to tell that side of the story, to shine a light on. There's as many Black experiences as there are on Black people, but it was important to shine a light on that particular Black experience where you are light skinned and light eyed. Where you are in between where you yourself are a tweener and you have not realized your own value. That part was important.

While the passage was written for Jordan, the entry in the journal especially also spoke to Virgil while he was adapting Dana Canedy’s memoir for the big screen. Within the scene, he gets a chance to shed light on an experience he dealt with alongside Jordan.

Colorism is an apt topic that people are faced with everyday, and in the Hollywood space, there’s been more of a spotlight being placed on the topic in this year in particular. Earlier this year, the In The Heights filmmakers were faced with backlash for not reflecting the makeup of Washington Heights with more diverse casting, and actors such as Tyrese Gibson have spoken out about the casting topic. The common thing binding these conversations is the hope for the nuance of Black experiences to be more visible on the Hollywood stage in all its tones and hues. 

During the sequence in A Journal for Jordan, Dana (played by Chanté Adams) sits Jordan down after his bummer day and finds a particular passage that perfectly fits his situation that was written to him, likely when he was just a baby. It’s an especially beautiful scene because Charles Monroe King got to reach out and give advice and words of comfort to his son despite no longer being alive. 

By Dana Canedy telling her story, she reached out to someone like Virgil Williams, who will in turn reach out to audiences who see A Journal For Jordan. The movie is in theaters now. Check out what’s next with CinemaBlend’s 2022 new movie release schedule

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.