All Articles Tagged "octavia butler"
Despite the uproar over “Selma” supposedly being snubbed by the Academy for this year’s Oscars, Octavia Spencer believes differently.
During a sit-down interview with HipHollywood.com, the “Black or White” star weighed in on the situation, as she seemed to think folks may be overreacting with talk of “Selma” being completely overlooked.
“I don’t understand what that’s about. The film was not overlooked,” Spencer said. “It received a Best Picture and a Best Song nomination. It is what it is.”
“I’m thrilled for everyone that has received a nomination though, it’s hard to get: trust me,” the past Oscar winner added.
Read more about Octavia Spencer’s comments at EurWeb.com
There are only three people in this world, who I can honestly say I am a stan for: Michael Jackson, Erykah Badu and Octavia Butler.
Okay two of the three are no longer in this world however that’s how impactful their art was to me that I will drag a witch for disrespecting their ghostly greatness.
So imagine my surprise when I saw a report the other day in the Washington Post, announcing that a new Octavia Butler book is forthcoming.
Yes let me say that again: there will be a posthumous book from the greatest science fiction writer (notice I didn’t prefix that with black science fiction writers) of our time featuring two recently discovered and never published early stories. Now you can squeal like the nerd girl you really are.
“Open Road Integrated Media, a digital publisher, announced Tuesday that “A Necessary Being” and “Childfinder”will be compiled in a single volume titled “Unexpected Stories” and will be released June 24. Walter Mosley, the best-selling crime writer, has contributed an introduction.
“’Unexpected Stories’ reveals the themes that would become Butler’s lexicon: the complicating mysteries we assign to power, race, and gender,” Mosley writes. “Reading these tales is like looking at a photograph of a child who you only knew as an adult. In her eyes you can see the woman that you came to know much later; a face, not yet fully formed, that contains the promise of something that is now a part of you; the welcomed surprise of recognition in innocent eyes.”
According to the Post, the two stories, which are said to date back to the early 1970s, were recently found by Butler’s literary agent among some of the prize winning author’s old papers, currently being housed in archive. The first story called A Necessary Being is described on the Open Road website as the tale of a young heroine of an endangered race, who one day meets another of her kind and must decide between imprisoning him or living the rest of her life alone. And in the second story, entitled Childfinder, which was commissioned for an anthology by Harlan Ellison but never published, tells the story of a telepathic woman, who mentors another young telepath that is in desperate need of controlling her powers.
Two science fiction stories with woman-leads? Count me in.
Seriously, no one quite mixes imaginative, time-traveling content with race, sexuality and gender issues quite like Butler. However, as excited as I am, there is also a part of me, who is hesitant about reading any unreleased material from an author, who has long since passed on and therefore, can’t offer her consent as to whether or not she wanted either project to see the light of day. Although Childfinder was supposed to be published in an anthology – so technically she did provide her consent to that – however what Butler felt about the publishing of the other novel remains unclear. For all we know, she could have hated the quality of the story, felt it uncomplete or disavowed some of its themes.
This, especially, is of importance considering that a just a couple of years ago, a digital copy of Butler’s Survivor, which was originally published in 1978 as part of the Patternist Series (and has not been reprinted since 1981), started making the rounds on the Internet. As my second favorite Butler series (the first being the Parables series), I quickly downloaded a copy. However a small moral dilemma erupted when word also began to circulate that Butler actually hated the novel and refused to allow it to be reprinted.
According to the website Tor, what she actually said of the book was:
“When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way. They were a little sly, or a little like “the natives” in a very bad, old movie. And I thought, “No way. Apart from all these human beings populating the galaxy, this is really offensive garbage.” People ask me why I don’t like ‘Survivor,’ my third novel. And it’s because it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel.
As someone, who only got down with Star Trek Generations (and that was because it was like a soap opera), I have to admit that the novel didn’t sound all that interesting. Likewise being such a dedicated fan of her work, I really did want to honor her wishes and skip the novel all together. But I have read just about every single Butler novel. And being in possession of a the only Butler novel I hadn’t read was just too much temptation for me. And despite my desire to stay loyal, I ripped through those pages like the hungry lioness on a gazelle.
Boy do I wish I hadn’t. It’s not that I didn’t like it but I definitely see where Butler was coming from. Simply put: it just was not her best work.
And that’s the thing about unreleased material is that most times, it is compiled of half-finished thoughts, reedited and mixed so that people and the estate can make money off of the posthumous notoriety. Nothing wrong with that. And sometimes it works, as in the case of Tupac Shakur, whose posthumous record releases have all landed pretty high (sometimes number one) on the Billboard top 100 charts and sold over 75 million albums worldwide. However, there is also the other time that Tupac physically showed up posthumous at Coachella in hologram form, which did nothing but cheapen his legacy.
I doubt that the publishers of unreleased material will be sending a hologram Butler on book tour any time soon – although I would kind of be down for that. And the purely selfish side of me really wants to read and own both of these stories. Plus bad Butler is way better than good-mostly anybody else any day.
So what folks think about the posthumous release of an artist’s materials? Good idea or just read the old stuff?
According to Shadow and Act, director Ernest Dickerson, probably most known for Juice, directing episodes of “The Wire,” “Treme” and “The Walking Dead,” is shopping around a script for science fiction film based upon one of Octavia Butler’s books:
“In our conversation, when I asked him to share details on any feature film projects he’s anxious to make, Dickerson replied, stating that, amongst other projects (which I’ll share in the full interview later), he’s been shopping around an adaptation of Octavia Butler’s 1984 novel “Clay’s Ark.”
He said the script is done, and he feels it’s a pretty good one; but, of course, attracting funding for it is a challenge – one that he hopes he can overcome sooner than later.”
Hopefully he can find backers for this project. And hopefully Dickerson would be open to the idea of crowd funding at least a portion of the project so us Octavia Butler fan girls (and boys too) could contribute a chance to see one of Butler’s works on the big screen. For those unaware, Clay’s Ark is the third book in the Patternmaster series of novels and deals with an alien plague on humanity and a doctor and his daughter’s attempt to survive it. Although I believe that this is such an unlikely choice to choose for film adaptation (The Parables…would have made a much better introduction to Butler’s vision of a dystopian world), I’m just happy that we are close to finally having futuristic story, written, directed and starring black folks (fingers freakin’ crossed), on screen. Close is the key word.
If current science fiction is any indicator, it would seem that black folks are largely missing from the future. Sure there was a couple of us on Star Trek. But black folks didn’t get to command star fleets until “Deep Space Nine.” Two weeks ago, I started the first season of “Battlestar Galactica” on Netflix. While the series, which stars Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama, is wonderfully written and by television standards, pretty diverse, the people of color on that series still comes off as token characters, put there for the purpose of looking diverse. For instance, the only reoccurring black character on the show, which I have seen thus far, is Anastasia Dualla and she seems to occupy the same job description as her television predecessor Uhura from Star Trek. I mean, all these years have passed, humanity largely exists in outerspace and black women can’t seem to break through the glass ceiling to rise above glorified telephone operators?
But it is not just in intergalactic space exploration in which people of color, black folks specifically, are largely erased. It would appear that people of color can not be found among the Hobbits of Middle Earth. We may existed aboard the Prometheus and may have even been the last man alive (I am Legend) but we have no survival skills beyond sacrificing ourselves for the greater good (i.e. white women). Even in places when the film draws largely from a history of that people, say District 9 and Avatar, we are still not the center of the story. And don’t get me started on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” I find it hard to believe that in Atlanta of all places, the white survivors outnumber black survivors almost 10 to one. Occasionally there are stand out black characters such as Morpheus from The Matrix series but for the most part, there is only one black person, possibly two black characters in the entire futuristic, dystopian galaxy of film. Most times, those two black characters are pretty forgettable. And don’t let them be in the same scene at the same time – that might just cause a riff in the space time continuum.
My desire to have more meaningful inclusion of black folks in the genre on film can not be restrained in what we describe as Black Nationalism. Instead it is more connected to Black Futurism. Having these stories on screen help to raise the level of consciousness and critique about society, race, and in some instances gender and sexuality, which are more nuanced than what we currently get from the mainstream. Sure having Blade, a vampire who just happens to be black, is revolutionary. However having a vampire not only be both black and a woman but also challenges racism and sexism within her own little vampire underworld, such is the case in Butler’s Fledging, gives black folks space to tell more liberating mythologies of not only what are society is but also what it could be.
A relatively new term, derived in the late 70s, Black Futurism, or Afrofuturism, is a term generally used to describe any body of artistic work, which combines science-fiction (including fantasy, magic, horror, technology and speculative) with the culture, history and the people of the African Diaspora. Traditionally the art form is largely associated with authors like Stanley Delaney, Walter Moseley, Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due and of course Octavia Butler. However it was musicians like Sun Ra, who popularized the art form, and artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Earth, Wind & Fire, Janelle Monae, Outkast and Erykah Badu – with their space obsessed rhythms and surreal fashions – whom most visually represents the Afro futuristic landscape.
Unfortunately this movement of art, fashion, literature and music is slow to translate into film. Stateside, there are very few widely distributed sci fi/fantasy films directed, produced, or starring African Americans. My own limited early morning research suggests that since the time that Joe Morton mined through his role as The Brother from Another Planet, there has not been another “serious” foray into Afro futurism on screen until the early 90s when network television brought us the ridiculously stupid “Homeboys in Outer Space.” However the tide might be changing as outside of the United States, black filmmakers appear to be exploring other dimensions outside the box with projects like Lauren Beukes’ “Zoo City,” a science fiction drama out of South Africa and Nnedi Okorafor’s “Who Fears Death,” an award winning post-apocalyptic fantasy tale, which has been described as the African Lord of the Rings, both on the horizon. The film version of “Who Fears Death,” which is said to be currently in production, has been written and is being directed by Wanuri Kahlu, a Kenyan woman, who last year wowed judges at Sundance with her black female-centered post-apocalyptic short Pumzi.
I’m not really certain, who first dropped this gem of “if you can envision a new world, you can create it,” but I think that certainly applies here to thinking of the importance of science fiction in black art. I guess that the more general belief is that as a people, we just don’t get down with the futuristic landscape, which might explain why there are so little of it out there on film. But I find it hard to believe that as a people, we don’t sometimes envision ourselves in distant times and places – both real and imagined. And I know many of us have to be more forward-looking than that?
Over at Clutch Magazine, writer Britni Danielle ponders the question, “What Happened to Black Literature?”
In her piece, Danielle reminiscences about a time in most recent history when contemporary black authors created stories “with complex, upwardly mobile black characters who fell in love with abandon, went hard at their jobs, and knew when to relax with their girls.” In admiration of those glory days, Danielle writes the following: “Their tales spoke to me…And there was always drama. Not the ignorant, I’m-going-to-beat-you-down drama of reality TV or street lit books, but the riveting, I-wonder-what-will-happen-next kind that would leave me turning pages late into the night.”
I have read similarly themed articles and columns like this throughout the years. Urban novels, ghetto fiction, street-lit, blaxploitation-on-a-page…whatever name we grace it with, the point is, we all hate it – or at least a few people do, because the stuff is sure selling like hot cakes. Yet despite the popularity among its mostly black readership, there are no shortage of critics who like to shoulder the blame for the “death of Black literature” on this particular sub-genre. Some of you reading this might agree with the notion that the stories themselves are sub-par; nothing more than violent tales of pimps, prostitutes, gangbangers and illicit sex, riddled with spelling errors and bad grammar. Some might even go as far as to say that you feel that these stories present the worst of our community and only seek to fulfill the appetites of a certain ill-bred segment of black America.
Yet, I have no beef with the sub-genre. In fact, going from the ‘hood to the university; and growing up on a healthy diet of diverse black storytelling from Omar Tyree to Alice Walker, I can say that there is no single narrative that can fully represent the entire black experience. I mean, who are we to say what values these books have on the reader and more importantly, to exclude them from being classified as black literature?
My sister-in-law is a self-published author of street lit. Going under the moniker Veronica Black Beauty, she has so far written and published two novels: Lyric: Philly’s Own Princess and Jay: Philly’s Own Prince. Her first novel, Lyric, was written as an ode to her own roots, which started in the projects of North Philadelphia. There she learned how to survive through poverty, sexual abuse, teenage parenthood, being a high school dropout, depression and sickle cell anemia. She had always dreamed of being a nurse and a writer, however, she couldn’t find the strength inside of her to commit to either. That was until the 4-month-premature birth of my first niece, Lyric. She lived for a couple of months before my sister-in-law Veronica and my brother made the difficult choice to let her pass on. To help her heal from the pain of losing a child, Veronica decided to pick up the pen and write about all the turmoil that swirled around in her head. After one month of writing, that turmoil morphed into characters and a semi-fictional plot about a girl from the Richard Allen Projects. Six months later, she had a story.
by Charing Ball
Over the weekend, I came across a link to Survivor, the lost novel by Octavia Butler, which had been uploaded online for free. The book is part of the Patternist series and has been a virtual hard to find as Butler herself was very ambivalent about the book and basically omitted it from the series. The Patternist series is probably one of my favorites so I was just as excited to come across a portion of the longer story, which I had never heard of. However, I’m still mulling over if I should read it considering she hated it enough to take it out of print. If this isn’t a nerd conundrum than I don’t know what is.
Then yesterday, I read this: “Aaliyah died over ten years ago and the music community still feels her loss; there’s been no lack of interest in the late singer’s story and people still speculate about what the music landscape would be like had she not died so young and tragically. However, Aaliyah passed away leaving a cache of unreleased material, and producer Jeffrey “J Dub” Walker confirmed via Twitter on Sunday that we can expect at least some of that new music to be released.” Another Aaliyah album is on the way? Cool – well on second thought, maybe not.
Of course, posthumous albums are nothing new, although producing a new album with new material years after her passing might be entering a new level of debauchery. Unfortunately, Aaliyah died at what could be best described as the beginning of the height of her career. A budding movie star with over 32 million in album sales, it is not improbable to say that she may have been on Beyonce’s status right now if she were still alive. But that isn’t certain. The music scene has changed so much. New Jack Swing and the rest of the R&B/Hip-Hop era artists, which Aaliyah properly shined in, have already had their time. Now is the time of dub-step, techno-beats, Euro-pop fusion and most of the 90s recording artists have either conformed to this new aesthetic or faded into obscurity. Since Aaliyah passed on prior to the change in scenery, we have no way of knowing how she would, or even could, fit into this brave new musical world. Therefore, an album of songs, which were likely produced back in the 90s, just seems, for the lack of a better word, unnatural.
This is not to say that it couldn’t work. The music scene is recording artists whose popularity not only lived on but in some instance intensified after their demise. Artist such as Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and Nina Simone have found legions of new fans thanks to the re-release and creation of posthumous albums. Marvin Gaye has seen 13.1 million in sale since his murdered in 1984 while James Brown, who died of complications associated with pneumonia on Christmas morning 2006, has had over 5 million in sales after his death. And then there is Biggie and Tupac, who both have had a series of number 1 albums since their untimely demises.
But I can honestly say that I have never bought an album from an artist posthumously. Not Michael Jackson’s album, not any of Tupac’s six albums, and not even Biggie’s album. Generally speaking, these albums are usually thrown together, with no rhyme or reason. To make up for the fact that the songs are unfinished, producers tend to throw tons of “featured” artists, who may or may not have connection to the deceased artist. I don’t care how much I love the artist – I’m just not that interested in work that the artist or their team didn’t feel worthy enough to realize while they were in the land of living. Maybe the artists thought the songs to be a poor reflection of their talent and if alive, would not have consented to the album’s release?
There is something oddball about the hype around posthumous albums. For the second week in a row, Whitney Houston has sold over 250,000 albums and all of her catalogs are back on the Billboard top 20. While all of her albums are arguably great, nobody was really checking for The Greatest Love of All prior to her death. In fact, I rarely heard it played on the radio. But because the artist is no longer here, we place a bigger value on their work than we did before. It’s our way of letting them live on. But if we are being honest, even in death, the desire for a comeback through posthumous albums never live up to expectations.
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2011 was a good year for blacks in film. From comedy to drama, to independent films gone mainstream, we did our thing this year.
If you don’t believe me and need further proof, check out this list of stars in black who dominated this year at Black Voices.com.
More on Madame Noire!
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 In? Kindred, 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.
Mainstream America hasn’t been particularly accepting of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community, and that goes double in the African American community. With strong “traditional church” backgrounds and the fear of the down- low brother choosing to express your homosexuality can be detrimental or even dangerous in some situations. Despite this fact, there are some celebrities who’ve decided to endure the inevitable criticism and come out, some publicly, some not so publicly, sharing just one part of who they really are.
As iPods orchestrate music in the ears of young folk, and open-mouth, dead-to-the-world sleep is always welcome during an early morning commute on public transit, nothing is more satisfying than filling up your time while caught in the grips of an exceptionally great book. For black women, there are a few reads that speak to us and tell our story better than we could put into words ourselves. They’ve been passed on through word of mouth, through book clubs and through literal passing from hand to hand. The 10 works of art featured are books you’ve probably read or heard of, and if you have them, it’s time to crack ’em open again. Because a truly great book has no limit to the entertainment it can provide, and well, you might as well get your money’s worth, whether in fancy-schmancy e-reader form, or in old-school, bunny-eared paperback fashion. If it’s your first time flipping through them, take notes for your next bookstore ransacking.
What books would you recommend for people to read again or for the first time?
Hot, powerful and unpredictable, most vampires on the big and small screens also share the trait of bright white skin. Sure the lack of sun for a few centuries will make you lose your summer glow, but there must be some brown folks in the land of the undead and not just in Brooklyn either.