Why Hasn’t Octavia Butler’s Work Been Adapted?

December 28, 2011  |  


Octavia E. Butler is considered the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, so why haven’t any of her books ever been turned into a movie?

I mean, its not like her work is too hard to translate visually: Butler’s last novel Fledging, the first in a series which was released after her untimely death in 2008, is actually told from the point of view of a 53-year-old vampire who happens to look like a 10-year-old black girl.  Can anyone say Twilight or Let the Right One InKindred, her first novel, is a time travel story revolving around an African-American woman in 1976 Los Angeles who is pulled back in time to the 1800s and has to reconcile the two eras. Hello? That’s just like Back to the Future. And let us not forget The Parable of the Sower/Talent, in which Butler shares a coming of age tale about a black woman, weaving and surviving her way through post-apocalyptic California. Well that’s just like The Road, The Book of Eli and just about ever post-apocalyptic films, which has come out in the last twenty years or so.

In a few interviews, Butler had once teased that she had been in “talks” with studio execs about some of her work, including the Patternist series, and that some of her books had been optioned for film, but “unfortunately,” people have not been able to find the money to make the movie.” But why?  It’s obvious that Hollywood loves a book adaptation.  And other classic and equally esoteric science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein, Philip K. package, Frank Herbert and Stephen King have seen their work on the big screen.  Yet finding the funding to support a film adaptation of a Butler book is hard to come by.

These thoughts were at the forefront of my mind as I read about the recent uproar over the reviews of The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, a collection compiled and introduced by Rita Dove, an African American former US Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. In particular, Helen Vendler, author of the Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry and so-called renowned poetry czar, was particularly harsh, if not borderline bigoted, in her New York Review of Books critique of the anthology in which she basically attacked Dove for including “a dubious and incoherent selection” of poets in the anthology.  This “dubious” selection includes black poets likes of Amiri Barack and Gwendolyn Brooks for whom Vendler suggested showed Dove preference for “multicultural inclusiveness,” at the expense of more classic favorites such as Eliot, Frost and Stevens.

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  • Mike Barrett

    An adaptation of the Xenogenesis series starting with Dawn would be AMAZAAAAAYNG!

  • Vincent Bernard

    Good article but two things that need correcting. First, Octavia Butler died in 2006 not in 2008. And her first published work was The Patternmaster in 1976. Kindred was actually her third novel.

    I don’t understand why her work hasn’t been translated to film. True, her books are ALWAYS lead by powerful black female leads (which I LOVE), who all have very ethnic in appearances (so Hollywood can’t rely on the exotic, light skinned Beyonce/Rihanna black beauties they usually turn to when portraying black women if they want to do it right) and yes she deals with themes that deal mostly with Africa and African Americans yet her stories are all universal. The Parable Series, The Kindred, and the Liliths Brood could all be adapted. In “Wildseed” the main love of Anyawyu life existence was Isaac, a multi racial man (with powerful telekinesis) who could pass for white in an instant. And remember when Anyawu lived life as a white man in the 1800’s South and she was married to a white clairvoyant?

    Her work demands the attention of film.

  • btw- it’s a crime that Kindred isn’t a film and I am reading Parable of the Sower right and cannot believe no one wants to put it on film. This has got to be on the top 20 or even top 10 list of best apocalyptic stories. She just nails it.

  • Writer Keith Josef Adkins just collected enough in private donations to begin filming his Science Fiction series pilot, the Abandoned which center around a group of black friends and an alien abduction. He had to build the budget through donations because every studio told him that they do not want to risk doing a Sci-Fi that centers around black people. They believe there is no black audience for it and that white audiences won’t be interested. I would have argued against both assumptions but after the absurd controversy over the casting the character of Rue in the Hunger Games as a black girl, which is also who she is in the book (the writer doesn’t say she is African American but when you describe some one as having dark brown skin…I mean, really!) But after that, I’m starting to wonder if the latter is true or not.


  • Tell Tyler Perry to adapt one of her novels to film.

  • reese

    I think I will write Oprah she is having problems getting people to watch her channel and I always thought that if she should make some books into movies.  I have a list to recommend her.

  • Bella

    I would kill to see any of her books as a film. But it probably won’t happen in my lifetime. They didn’t even put out the Xenogenesis trilogy with a black womanon the front cover of Dawn when it first came out. In fact, the woman didn’t even have a tan! Pale as a ghost. Going deep into the minds of intelligent, courageous black women and dealing the frailties of humanity in Hollywood? Not going to happen. I’d be camping out to see it if it happened.

  • Singersower2

    An article worth considering…..AND I am going out and read Miss Butler’s books!


      There are some AWESOME writers of color out there… Charles Saunders, Walter Mosley, Octavia Butler, Brandon Massey, Tananarive Due, L.A. Banks, Serissa Glass, Steven Barnes, Steven Van Patten, Gregory Walker (Brother G), Nalo Hopkinson, Wendy Raven McNair, Gregory Townes, T.L. Gardner, Milton Davies and others that I just can’t think of right now.

      You also have some good (black horror/fantasy/Scifi/ Sword and Soul fiction) anthologies like Vegas Bites (3 books),  Dark Dream (3 books(?), Dark Thirst, The Ancestors, Griots, and others. If you have suggestion, please shoot me an email at godzlove(at)hotmail(dot)com. I’m always down to read new black horror, fantasy, Scifi, and/or Sword & Soul fiction from authors of color.


      Paul F.

  • Freebee33

    Sci-fi is my favorite genre I would fall out somewhere if they would adapt one of her books into a movie lol, I love The Parable of the Sower. We need more black (well made, Leprechaun in the Hood I’m looking at you lol) sci-fy/ horror movies period. But I guess they think that we only like Tyler Perry-esk type films. It just seems Hollywood is content with churning out the same old stuff,
    I mean they would sooner remake a movie from the eighties than produce
    something new..

    Tananarive Due and Brandon Massey are also two black Sci-fi writers whose books should be adapted to film.

    • CharingB

      Brandon Massey. Yes, that’s the name I was trying to think of earlier. I read Dark Corners at the same time that I discovered Tananarive Due’s The Between. Other authors of the genre to consider: Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson and Walter Moseley too (he wrote some pretty good sci-fi and speculative fiction work). Afro-futurism and beyond…


      Don’t forget Mrs Due’s husband, Steven Barnes (Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart), L.A. Banks (VampireHuntress and Bad Moon series) as well as Charles Saunders (Imaro). 

  • IllyPhilly

    Yall are on point today MN! Wildseed would be an amazing movie! Sci-fi seems like untocuhed territory for black folks!


      Wildseed and Mind of my mind for the win!!!!

  • Mrsjts

    Ok, he’s the deal, nothing new here, our works, ideas & inventions have been stolen for centuries, also she did not have the “look” that is marketable enough for the powers that be white.

  • moi

    I love kindered.

  • JN31

    Come on now. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know why her works aren’t being made into films. Hollywood is hard enough as it is for a talented person to be heard without the proper funding/backing, but everyone knows it’s racist.

    It’s easy to complain, but what are you going to do to help gain the attention- or more so the cash to get things like this started? How about at the end of your article you included a petition or into on who to contact to make this happen?

  • Jaymee Tee

    I forgot how much I liked Octavia Butler’s work. Her first book I read was Mind of My Mind about ten years ago. Thanks for this article. I’m adding her material back to my reading list. Would love to see her work adapted into a film.

    • oh NO!

      can any one say 
      Sophia Stewart? Have you ever seen a little old movie called Terminator, or The Matrix. Yeah they just paid Ms Stewart a multi billion dollar settlement for using her work to create these franchises w/out her approval. Yeah ripped off a poor up and coming USC student.  

      • IllyPhilly

        when did she win? I was following that for awhile and it seem like they were gonna jerk her around so I prayed and gave up.

        • that whole story was a hoax.

          octavia butler’s work though isn’t. would love to see it adapted..by the right people of course.