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6 Out of 9 Best Picture Nominees Were Based On Novels (Where's My Octavia Butler Adaptation?)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act February 27, 2012 at 12:05PM

Last Friday, February 24th, 2012 marked the 6th year since Hugo and Nebula award winner, Octavia Butler, died from a stroke at just 58 years old (she died February 24th, 2006).
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Octavia Butler

Last FridayFebruary 24th, 2012 marked the 6th year since Hugo and Nebula award winner, Octavia Butler, died from a stroke at just 58 years old (she died February 24th, 2006).

To celebrate Ms Butler, I thought I'd revisit a year-old post and survey, titled, Novels That Could/Should Be Movies (Your Take). I like doing this at least once every year, if only to see what others are reading, but also hoping that maybe we'd inspire someone to take on filmic adaptations of some of these literary works that would make for some really interesting films (in the right hands), but have otherwise been ignored.

A scan of any movie Hollywood box office chart will show that there are actually very few of what I would call *original* screenplays being produced. Most are sequels, or prequels, or they are based on old TV shows, or remakes of old movies, remakes of foreign titles, or they are based on comic books/graphic novels, or titles that are adaptations of books.

I recall THIS write-up on Slate last year, asking who the most adapted authors are in cinema, penned by Forrest Wickman. In it, he lists the top 25 authors who's works, as he's determined, are the most adapted; specifically, Mr Wickman's working list of the top 25 most film-adapted authors, and the number of times their works have been adapted, using IMDB as his source: 1. William Shakespeare (831); 2. Anton Chekhov (320); 3. Charles Dickens (300); 4. Edgar Allan Poe (240); 5. Robert Louis Stevenson (225); 6. Arthur Conan Doyle (220); 7. Hans Christian Andersen (217); 8. The Brothers Grimm (212); 9. Molière (208); 10. O. Henry (201); 11. Oscar Wilde (181); 12. Victor Hugo (150); 13. Jules Verne (143); 14. Stephen King (127); 15. Agatha Christie (126); 16. L. Frank Baum (124); 17. Mark Twain (121); 18. Cervantes (101); 19. H.P. Lovecraft (99); 20. J.M. Barrie (93); 21. Ian Fleming (88); 22. H.G. Wells (85); 23. Rudyard Kipling (78); 24. Tennessee Williams (74); 25. Stan Lee (73).

That Shakespeare's name is at the top of the list is absolutely no surprise! You'll also note the absence of, shall we say, *color*, in the above list. But that shouldn't be a surprise either - the "invisible" original screenwriter's dilemma. 

Hollywood loves book adaptations. It’s obvious! In fact, some of the most revered and financially successful films in cinema history were first in literary form before making the transition to celluloid.

As the title of this post states, 6 out of the 9 Best Picture Academy Award nominees this year were adaptations of books: The Help, Moneyball, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Hugo, and War Horse.

I remembered reading an article some years ago in which Steven Spielberg actually encouraged writers to pursue careers as novelists, instead of screenwriters; stating that, at the time, his Dreamworks office was littered with stacks of novels he mined for source material, as he expressed his respect for them, over the original screenplay.

Practically all of Stanley Kubrick’s films, except his debut, were adaptations of novels or novellas.

Similarly, quite a few more of our most notable directors also have resumes that resemble Spielberg’s, in terms of a mix of original screenplays and adaptations of books. Although, unfortunately, books by and/or about people of African descent just don't get the same kind of attention.

Soooo... all this to say... or rather to ask you all: what yet-to-be adapted novels would you like to see made into movies, or that you think would make good films? Specifically, novels that center on a character (or characters) of African descent.

A few that immediately come to mind: I think several of Octavia Butler's novels are just begging for big screen treatment; and with so much interest in sci-fi, one would expect that at least one of her books would have gotten the green-light by now.

I recall an interview in which she stated that her debut novel, Kindred, had been optioned several times, but, unfortunately, the producers were unable to raise the necessary funds to go into production. I think Kindred is probably her most accessible, most commercial work. And if that novel can't attract financing, then, none of her more esoteric titles will.

In terms of contemporary fiction, I'd say works by names like Colson Whitehead (notably The Intuitionist & Apex Hides The Hurt amongst others) are ripe for adaptations; Mat Johnson's hilarious gentrification satire, Hunting In Harlem, would be near-perfect and quite topical; Victor LaValle's Big Machine, a fresh, dark, fantastical ride through America's "underclass," contains plenty of meat for the right filmmaker. In fact, if I were a producer, I'd be taking a close look at LaValle's entire oeuvre, including The Ecstatic, which actually inspired Mos Def's last album title of the same name.

Those are just a TINY few from a group of thousands upon thousands more; and I'm not even including writers from other parts of the Diaspora - continental African writers, Europe, Asia, South America, the Carribean, Canada, etc, etc, etc. Black/African people are everywhere after all, right?

But I'd like to hear what's on your list. So, drop some titles below. Who knows - maybe we could actually influence some minds reading this :) Yes, some of us will agree that books should remain as they are, in print, and films should rely on original content from original screenplays; but, as you can see, book adaptations are almost starting to become the norm in terms of source material for movies.

So indulge me... at worst, we all might learn about some titles that we were previously unaware of. And no, I'm not asking you to unload your entire library of book titles here, so PLEASE don't do that; name 2 or 3 that realistically, could be adapted... and that actually might have SOME commercial appeal.

This article is related to: Book To Film


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