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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