HBO’s modern take on Ray Bradbury’s literary classic bulks up its cast with a millennial icon.
According to Variety, Lilly Singh, or IISuperwomanII as she’s known on YouTube, has joined the already impressive line-up of HBO’s Fahrenheit 451, a new adaptation of the eponymous novel.
Deadline broke the news of the film earlier this year, with Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes) slated to direct. To the uninitiated, “Fahrenheit 451” is about a dystopian society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. Michael B. Jordan will star as Montag, a young fireman going against his government’s principles and his mentor, Beatty, portrayed by Michael Shannon. Sofia Boutella will feature as Clarisse, an informant caught between the two men’s struggle of ideology.
Singh will be playing the role of Raven, a propaganda-spreading tabloid vlogger working for the fire department.
Singh’s career spans a range of entrepreneurial efforts from music to writing to acting. She keeps up a regular upload schedule on her YouTube channel and has garnered the support of more than 11 million subscribers. She does daily vlogs (SuperwomanVlogs) as well.
2016 saw Singh slowly shift into Hollywood productions. Apart from the feature documentary about her, A Trip to Unicorn Island, she has had small roles in Ice Age: Collision Course and Bad Moms, and guested on the CBS sitcom, Life in Pieces.
But Fahrenheit 451 isn’t just her first major film role. The casting also holds particular significance for online content creators as they continue to make the leap into film and television.
This isn’t the first time a YouTuber has landed a part in a large Hollywood production. Anna Akana appears in the final scene of Marvel’s Ant-Man. Jimmy Tatro has found minor roles in a variety of comedy films like 22 Jump Street and Grown Ups 2. But with Fahrenheit 451, Singh makes a remarkable shift that her peers have yet to muster: definitively garnering an audience that goes beyond her usual demographic.
The film will likely spark some interest with literary fans given the historical significance the novel. Adaptation culture may have reached peak saturation years ago, but a lot can be done with the right cast and crew. There are the film fans who’d go in for the powerhouses behind the camera. Finally, simply including a vlogger in the film unequivocally dates this version of the narrative in the millennial age. Singh’s relevance and reach won’t be wasted.
Comparing the careers of big YouTubers is tough. The parameters of success on that platform differ so greatly. Solely looking at YouTubers based on numbers and fan base feels unreasonable when the two most popular channels have a difference of about 20 million subscribers without much rhyme or reason.
Singh’s YouTube channel might not be 55 million subscribers strong like Pewdiepie’s or even 22 million like Smosh’s. But she certainly holds more crossover appeal than most of her fellow YouTubers who have transitioned into Hollywood. Colleen Ballinger took her Miranda Sings persona to Netflix with Haters Back Off and Jake Paul stars in Disney Channel’s Bizaardvark. Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart, and Mamrie Hart have tapped into indie comedy success with Camp Takota and Dirty 30.
Most of these projects primarily bank on existing fandoms and target audiences. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Casting Singh as a vlogger also taps into an immediate familiar association we have of her due to her ubiquitous presence online.
But Fahrenheit 451 is Singh’s acting opportunity to actually go far beyond the image she’s cultivated. The role of a tabloid journalist working in favor of censorship is far removed from feel-good empowerment she disseminates on social media. It’s a challenge that we’ve yet to see her face, despite the fact that she’s done so much in the almost seven years since she started on YouTube.
And while the HBO adaptation might be “just a movie” to some, the political significance of Bradbury’s novel resonates even more strongly in the era of fake news and alternative facts. Singh is no stranger to political discussions, even on her largely neutral YouTube page.
Fahrenheit 451 is just a logical but undeniably huge next step in the evolution of Singh’s career. It’s a notable indication that such mainstream YouTubers can separate themselves from their respective brands without alienating fandom completely. Singh isn’t just “one of many digitally-native stars who have crossed over into traditional media,” despite what Variety says. She may just be spearheading something more exciting for other YouTubers longing to branch out.