Why No Octavia E. Butler on the Screen?

Hello All,

I am in no way presenting that being adapted for the screen is a measure of success. I am exploring why someone as beloved, talented, and influential as Octavia Estelle Butler hasn’t been presented on television, or projected 50 feet tall in a movie theater. Here is an excerpt of my explorations:

Here is a brief survey of the current field of science fiction adapted to film. Jules Vern over 140 adaptations. H.G. Wells? Over 80. Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson have over 70 each. Mary Shelley has been adapted close to 60 times. Michael Crichton and Philip K. Dick, both in the 20s. We haven’t even gotten to Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein or the rest of the old guard science fiction canon. What do they have in common? They are all white, and aside from Shelley, they are all male. While these authors aren’t telling the same story, their stories have similar themes, color, and cultural palettes.

A white man has to do battle with a force bigger than himself to save the world. Or a white man has to confront his creation, a creation that has outgrown him and has rebelled against him. Some white men discover something not of their world. And once in a while we may get a person of color sidekick who dies so that the white man can avenge his friend. Repeat this ad infinitum.


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11 thoughts on “Why No Octavia E. Butler on the Screen?

  1. more of a comic reader and not really into “sci-fi” fiction when i do read novels (mostly read YA fantasy/witchy stuff) but looking her up she has some great concepts for her books. maybe too deep for hollywood? would love to see the patternmaster series as a movie franchise

  2. Neal Stephenson is a white, males whose books have not translated to the either the small screen or the big screen. I think it depends on the content and the marketing. I bought “Seveneves” one month ago and it just didn’t grab me despite its fascinating premise. I will try again. In comparison, I read “The Martian” by Andy Weir and I could not put it down! It was such a page turner and I knew his book would get adapted for the screen.

    I know of Octavia Butler and always thought it was great that she was a sci-fi writer, but I never read any of her books. I think I will make an effort to buy one—any recommendations out there? Clay’s Ark? Dawn? Book 1 of the Xenogenesis Trilogy?

    I did hear that Ernest Dickerson has been trying to raise funding for his adaptation of Butler’s 1984 novel “Clay’s Ark” for a long, long time.. Some like to think that a veteran filmmaker like Ernest Dickerson would be able to attract financing for a project like this – especially given all the uber rich black entertainers and athletes. Surely, a few of them can combine resources, enough to help get the project off the ground. But then again, look at Don Cheadle having to resort to crowdfunding to raise $325,000 to help launch production on his Miles Davis film. But, Miles Ahead did get made, Speaking of indies, I also heard that Butler’s works are probably more along the lines of an indie distribution and that could be the reason why Hollywood has shied away because they want the big commercial block buster types of mainstream movies to reap all those dollars.

  3. Has to do with big budget films , being White and boring is enough to kill it as well No one going to touch a white male film that is a serious science fiction exploration of some social concepts exploration . Think what it comes down to can her book fit into a paradigm that can easily be sold across multiple countries ? Wither it black or white it has to be like that in blockbuster era , It has to be something that can make that 200 million dollar budget back and people looking for intellectual stimulation tend not to care about budget or money . if you can make it on a 200 million dollar budget the next question can you make it on a TV Show or Indie budget , Can the films be made with a Non-blockbuster indie budget ? if not yeah there not a chance in hell they’ll be adapted , C

    Americans Care about Science fiction , But Indie China Japan ? Korea global market yeah not much ,nor do they care much about realism as a marker for Entertainment , once again that’s Europe , Ghost of shell is not a house hold name in japan despite it popularity with Western fans , and metal gear solid has a niche audience , once again it more about what We like than what they like

    I think Can it be translated across multiple languages ? . So even if you removed the white man and put a black person yeah people are going to see larger and life story not intellectual exploration or high literature . high literature tend to be something elites deal with while average person doesn’t bother with .

    you can put a black person in a larger than life film that Zoe Sander and even remove the white lead (Globally it would of did fine long as the movie is identical to Guardian of the galaxy just minus the white hero ) Same with will smith …but “Serious Scfi for 300 million dollar budget ” yeah that a boat full of holes I would not invest my money in .

  4. “It’s a popular fallacy that if a single black person succeeds then we’ve obviously moved past institutionalised racism.” ~ Justina Ireland, author

  5. About all those iconic authors I attribute to the times they lived in as shaping their world view just as our current worldviews. For example HP Lovecraft was an unrepentant racist. Just my two cents in there.

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