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

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

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.

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From a 2001 article: "EVEN though film rights to Octavia Butler's 1979 novel ''Kindred'' have been under option almost continuously since the book was published, a screen version will not be at the multiplex any time soon. ''They just can't raise the money'' for a film adaptation, says Ms. Butler, the only science fiction writer to win a MacArthur Foundation genius grant."


African American novels that would make great movies: 1) Middle Passage, Charles Johnson, 2) The Known World, Edgar Jones, 3) The Living Blood, Tananarive Due, 4) Blood Brothers, Stephen Barnes, 5) Clay's Ark, Octavia Butler, 6) Kindred, Octavia Butler, and 7) Coyote Kings, Minister Faust


…In all honesty, to get films made with African American story and decent(sometimes large) budget and distribution to the appropriate markets like major indies and features is to go to Canada. A majority of black filmmakers are going there the way earlier black filmmakers went to Europe. Some black films made through Canadian production : The Planet of Junior Brown, How She Move , Love Sex and Eating the Bones, Brother 2 Brother, Noah's Ark: Jumpin' The Broom, Poor Boy's Game. Shaka Zulu miniseries was through Britain/Sweden….see a pattern, the content is more varied, diverse yet all are African American. Maybe if we start going overseas to make movies then Hollywood will notice the increase in US money from black moviegoers in Europe, they'll start making our stuff…just a thought?

Haqi Jamison

I read Miles Makers comments on S&A…

My question is when will we stop caring about rights? No one else does. Someone commented about her book Clay and how a couple of these huge box office movies used a name and some relatable storyline from her books. She's' gone and whoever this guy is who owns her rights doesn't care and if he does he probably collected his cut and kept quiet. The person did not mention the movies but I think they were "Push" and "Jumpers".

Why cannot we see the opportunities blacks have to create a movement for themselves without intervention. Distribution is already here we're using it right now as I type to you.

Also small budget BIG effects comes down to a little thing I'm using right now called a macbook pro. Adobe CS5 some cinema 4D, green screen and compositing. What more is needed.

All it needs a small amount of organization and a grassroots movement to get it going. I have the plan already. If anyone wants to talk about it let's.


Does anyone think J.J. Abrams can do justice to the PARABLE OF SOWER/TALENTS, or any of Ms. Butler's works? Reading about his new show REVOLUTION, I wonder would it be if there is PARABLE series on broadcast television (one can only dream).


Dear Universe:

Please don't let Hollywood get its filthy, stinking, white supremacist hands on any of Octavia Butler's brilliant work.

Thank you.

Geneva Girl

I've said this on this site before and I guess I'll keep saying it until somebody listens: the novels by Christopher Paul Curtis. Not every film has to be made for adults. His two most popular, award-winning books, Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 are standard fare for middle school readers so there's a built-in audience for them both. Every summer both books are on the summer reading list table in the white suburb where my parents live. They'd have cross-over appeal. Schools would bus in loads of kids.

They're extremely well-written historical fiction. I'm surprised that Will Smith hasn't snapped up The Wastons for his family. Both are humorous books and there's no preaching.

Trust me, I'd be at the theater on opening day with the entire family in tow.


I'm adding Barbara Neeley's Blanche series! Those books are laugh out loud funny.


What a coincidence. I have just finished re-reading Kindred, appreciating the cinematic quality of her prose. Butler is such a strong writer–direct, active, character-driven. And what a great opening with Dana's arm part of a wall.

One of my other favorite Butler novels is Dawn, the first book in her Xenogenesis series. More science fiction than Kindred, it would easily appeal to sci-fi fans and since it includes a diverse group of people, it should cross cultural lines with no problem. But who would play Lilith? I see Sophie Okenedo (?) in that role.

I haven't liked much of the recent sci-fi movies (I did like Source Code) which seem more like adolescent fantasies than original, hardcore science fiction. Butler's material provides us with a gold mine of possibilities.

Lea, Blak HLLYWD Insider

Pt. 2: Also scifi is not a very expensive genre when you know how to execute well. When financing comes in for these types of movies, studios like to go with people that have held their own in that arena (Michael Bay, JJ Abrams, James Cameron) that's what happen in the case of Twilight #2, Octavia's work would take a smart filmmaker with a bag of tricks that would rival Stanley Kubrick by keeping the budget low and the style high. But what films always boil down to is there distribution, its the difference between make a cake or throw it out the window.Black films never go overseas based on the belief of no demographic to appeal to, like the film industry pretends there's no continent called Africa but what plays a factor is not the demographic but the wealth. Here's a little math for you at home:
The film industry decides a director's next budget by this formula (Last 3 movies total box office/3) = budget for the next movie

If a ticket to the movies is about $13 USD its a lot more overseas and in countries that may not be as wealthy, its hard right now to go to the movies with ticket prices so high.Jump to Europe which is one of a few wealthy nations on pare with the US (Japan) who go to the movies frquently. This tells movie studios who we have to appeal to, it all boils down to money so black filmmakers have to be more slick, try miniseries (Mildred Pierce, Peter Pan), try TV Movies (Recount, Grey Gardens) try PPV or VOD (video on demand) and straight to DVD.There's a ton of great work through Sheila Nevins and HBO Films: Deadly Voyage, Lackwana Blues, Life Support , Angel Rodriguez, The Josephine Baker Story and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Maybe if black filmmakers came up with a film treaty like Dogma 95 making film through 40 Acres and a Mule , Rainforest Films and HBO Films there would be such a film renaissance and then we wouldn't have to talk in terms of movies like this.


If you notice the current things in the box office are devoid of originality because of the economy, the film industry only produces and makes things with a built in audience. They do not want to spend the money marketing, promoting and selling a movie to the audience whether its a blockbuster (John Carter), Oscar nominee(Hugo) or Indie (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), they want it already done for them. When we get into the realm of black literature, which already has a built in audience by particular authors and genre. The fan based of a Omar Tyree may not have the same support or size as the fan based of a Stephanie Meyer.The only way to get black adaptations on the screen of novels are the ones that cross over in fan base like Boondocks, black novels that are sci-fi(Walter Mosely), horror (LA Banks) and gay (E.Lynn Harris), we have to join together in otherness to get a group… an audience for the film industry.


@ Miles Maker -Excellent post , excellent question at the end!!!!


@ Miles Maker -Excellent post , excellent question at the end!!!!


Clearly it will happen when they find another black actress they CHOOSE.. Not who the black community chooses but who THEY choose.. Why have these conversations when you clearly know the obvious Tambay???

U know by now it isnt a good idea until they come up with it!!!


The Peter Pan Chronicles-Charles Frye
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing-M.T.Anderson
Sister X and the Victums of Foul Play-Carlene Hatcher Polite
From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate:Bedouin HornBook-Nathaniel Mackey(if u can find it)
Mumbo Jumbo-The Last Days of Louisana Red-The Terrible Twos-Flight to Canada-Japanese by Spring and his delicously rad-Reckless Eyeballing-Ishmeal Reed
Goodbye,Sweetwater(book of short stories and Toni Morrison's fave writer)- Henry Dumas
The Screamers-Amiri Baraka
Dhargren-Samuel Delany


The novel "Near Perfect" by Sharon Mitchell would make a great movie. It has love, sex, violence, sports and more. Ever After and Neva Hafta by Edwardo Jackson are good pics too.


KINDRED definitely belongs on film, but the PARABLE series should be an HBO series, maybe 5 parts or longer. (If they can drag out that MILDRED PIECE snoozefest in 4 parts, then can defintely break out PARABLE into multiple episodes.) Imagine if it was on HBO, they won't have the same limitations as a feature film, and can go into greater detail on the character development and the story. Watching what HBO has accomplished with GAME OF THRONES, I can only dream and drool over what they can do with PARABLE OF THE SOWER.

Miles Maker

There are 2 issues here.

One is the issue of rights. I was pursuing screenplay rights to her first award-winning short film Speech Sounds in 2005 shortly before she passed, and I was informed by her publishing company Seven Stories Press that she had signed all her motion picture rights away to RJ Feldman and Pearl Pictures. Feldman's stance was a tough one as Octavia had expressed her lack of desire to have any of her works adapted to screen on several occasions publicly. I thought I might squeeze a short story option through in hopes of expanding it into a feature film but it simply didn't happen. Obtaining rights to her work may have become even more costly and altogether difficult since her untimely passing.

The other issue is production budget and value. Sci-fi is one of the most challenging genres to produce, and in a financing environment where it is largely ill-believed that Black film doesn't sell overseas and the fact most filmmakers of color are barely finding financing for films with far less economic demands on their budget, the possibility is simply beyond the reach of most of us.

This presents a question–what if a White producer got the greenlight to make an Octavia Butler movie? Would Butler fans and Black audiences be upset?


I just finished reading Clays Ark last month which I read after Mind of My Mind, and before that WildSeed, all written by Octavia. Clays Ark is too uncanny almost identical to two movies that were huge box offices (I will not mention the names), however one character name is actually used in one of the box office movies. I would love love love to see WildSeed come to the big screen since it would require a tremendous amount of special affects and would also require historical research of ancient african culture(s) preceding ancient Egyptian civilization. Octavia's last book Fledgeling would be nice to see on the big screen which will give a different perspective of vampires. Of course I would love to see Kindred, that particular story is timeless and in a way echoes Kara Walkers work.

I truly miss Octavia, fortunately I was able to meet her before her transition.


mina <3


If Django Unchained is the next big thang on the horizon, I think Guy Johnson's ( Maya Angelou's son) book Standing At The Scratch Line, should soon follow. What, don't tell me y'all have not heard of or read THAT book? It's a well written must read about the baddest badass black central character in print. Check this: Raised in the steamy bayous of New Orleans in the early 1900s, LeRoi "King" Tremain, caught up in his family's ongoing feud with the rival DuMont family, learns to fight. But when the teenage King mistakenly kills two white deputies during a botched raid on the DuMonts, the Tremains' fear of reprisal forces King to flee Louisiana.

King thus embarks on an adventure that first takes him to France, where he fights in World War I as a member of the segregated 369th Battalion—in the bigoted army he finds himself locked in combat with American soldiers as well as with Germans. When he returns to America, he battles the Mob in Jazz Age Harlem, the KKK in Louisiana, and crooked politicians trying to destroy a black township in Oklahoma.

King Tremain is driven by two principal forces: He wants to be treated with respect, and he wants to create a family dynasty much like the one he left behind in Louisiana. This is a stunning debut by novelist Guy Johnson that provides a true depiction of the lives of African-Americans in the early decades of the twentieth century.


I'd also love to see Morrison's SONG OF SOLOMON adapted, too. I can't believe that one hasn't been successfully adapted, given that it came out around the same time as ROOTS did, and it seemed as though the country was transfixed on black generational sagas, or at least tolerant of them in the late '70s.


Mat Johnson's PYM, Toni Cade Bambara's THE SALT EATERS, Percival Everett's ASSUMPTION, David Bradley's THE CHANEYSVILLE INCIDENT, and of course Lavalle's and Whitehead's first works would be awesome to see adapted.


Dreamworks (Spielberg's company) has sat on Octavia Butler's options for years. Neither Kindred (time travel/slave epic), nor the Parable series (post-apocalyptic), nor the Xenogenesis (post-apocalyptic/alien encounter) can be adapted to screen without the permission of Dreamworks. Not sure about Fledgling (vampires), although this work would be interesting because as Butler stated at a lecture I attended, the secret to UV resistence was melanin.


Diane McKinney Whetstone – Tumbling and Blues Dancing


I'm surprised no ones tried to make THINGS FALL APART, INVISIBLE MAN (Ellison's) or COLDEST WINTER EVER. But i think Winter has been in talks w/ Will Smiths company for a while now, not sure about the status. But the other 2 are bonafied classics and would have built in audiences for education and entertainment.


I'm a long-time lurker here at Shadow and Act, but this post needs a comment!

What wouldn't I give to see an Octavia Butler film adaptation! Kindred is definitely the most accessible, but I think her Parable series would be amazing for the screen: both Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.

But we may have to look outside of Hollywood if we want to see a black sci-fi movie. From what I understand, the Kenyan filmmaker behind Pumzi, Wanuri Kahiu, is set to direct the film adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death. Absolutely. cannot. wait!

Also, I wonder how literate are our black filmmakers in the Hollywood industry. I gotta ask because it seems like, if they were readers of black literature, we would have already seen those movies made, instead of all that Tyler Perry and other black comedy fluff based on mediocre screenplays.

Even Spike Lee has yet to adapt a black literary masterpiece into film (although, I had heard decades back that he once was interested in adapting Toni Morrison's Sula, which would have made more sense as a film than what Oprah Winfrey did to Beloved, although I personally would prefer to see Morrison's Song of Solomon become a film).

But, yeah, where's the film adaptations for Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man or Jean Toomer's Cane or Paule Marshall's Brown Girls, Brownstone? Or what about other sci-fi novels, like Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring?

I just wish more filmmaking folks read more black fiction, as there are so many great stories out there.


1) Night of Power – Spider Robinson, 2) The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad – Minister Faust, 3) Hyperion saga – Dan Simmons …… those are ones that would have some-to-a lot of commercial appeal. Two more suggestions with less commercial appeal but would be viable choices for some good independent work 4) White Boy Shuffle – Paul Beatty, 5) Sula – Toni Morrison

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