After the critical acclaim Barry Jenkins has received for his adaptation of James Baldwin’s classic novel If Beale Street Could Talk, now is the time to adapt even more iconic books by Black authors for the big screen.
As the old adage goes, no one can tell our stories better than we can. Here are 10 books by Black authors that should be adapted into films, and the Black directors we think should write and direct them.
1) Fledging by Octavia Butler
Director: Nikyatu Jusu
Afrofuturistic trailblazer Octavia Butler tapped into the world of vampires in the last book published before her death. Fledging chronicles the tale of Shori, a 53-year-old African American human-vampire hybrid who appears to be a ten-year-old girl. Waking up with severe memory loss, Shori relies on the kindness of strangers to piece together her identity while suppressing her bloodlust and facing discrimination along the way. Given the book’s subject, filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu would be the right person to bring Butler’s final book to screens. Her upcoming short film, Suicide By Sunlight, tackles a similar subject: a Black vampire protected from the sun by her melanin. It is due for release this year.
2) Parable Of The Sower by Octavia Butler
Director: Regina King
Gripping and eerily prescient, Parable Of The Sower has been regarded by many to be one of Butler’s most groundbreaking works of fiction. Released in 1993 in the aftermath of the Los Angeles Riots, the book tells the story of Lauren Olamina, a 15-year-old African-American girl who possessions the ability to feel the pain of other people. Set in Los Angeles in the year 2020, the book’s relevance is more palpable than ever in its depiction of climate change, greed, and class warfare. One of its most notable elements is its depiction of Andrew Steele Jarrett, a Texan senator and president candidate who, in his own words, wants to “make America great again” ( sound familiar?). Emmy Award-winning actress and television director Regina King would be dope to bring Parable Of The Sower. It also helps that she appeared on the HBO series The Leftovers, a show documenting a portrait of a world on the verge of extinction.
3) The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Director: Tina Mabry
Widely regarded as one of America’s greatest novelists, it’s hard to believe that only one of Toni Morrison’s books, Beloved, has been adapted for the big screen. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, is certainly ripe for adaptation. Set in 1941 during the Great Depression, the novel tells the story Pecola, a dark-skinned Black girl who desires to have blue eyes, as she equates it with beauty. With themes such as incest and child molestation, the book also tackles internalized racism and colorism in the Black American community. Tina Mabry, who has written and produced episodes of the OWN drama Queen Sugar, would be great to adapt a novel with such dark themes. Her first feature film, Mississippi Damned, tackled heavy themes such as the generational cycles of abuse and violence.
4) Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Director: Dee Rees
One of James Baldwin’s most seminal works of fiction, Giovanni’s Room has been heralded for its depiction of homosexuality and bisexuality. The novel tells the story of David, an American man who embarks on a relationship with Giovanni, an Italian bartender whom he met at a Parisian bar. While Barry Jenkins would have been a no-brainer to tackle another Baldwin novel, we’d like to see a filmmaker from the LGBTQ community bring Giovanni’s Room to life, and who better than Dee Rees. The Academy Award-nominee, who identifies as a lesbian, tackled the thrills of self discovery and embracing sexual identity in her lauded feature film debut, Pariah.
5) The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Director: Barry Jenkins
Colson Whitehead’s 1999 debut novel, The Intuitionist, tells the story of Lila Mae Watson, an elevator inspector who becomes her city ‘s first Black female elevator inspector. Suspicion immediately falls on Watson after one of the elevators she inspected plummets several stories below. Barry Jenkins has already proved his adaptation chops with If Beale Street Could Talk, and is our filmmaker of choice to bring this speculative sci-fi piece to life. It also helps that Jenkins is also writing and directing an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s most recent novel The Underground Railroad.
6) My Soul To Keep by Tananarive Due
Director: Bree Newsome
Tananarive Due’s second novel, My Soul To Keep, is a must read for fans of horror. The novel chronicles the relationship between Jessica and David, a married couple with a seemingly perfect life. For Jessica, David is everything she wants in a man: ageless and attentive. However, Jessica begins to question the true nature of her marriage when people closest to her die mysteriously. David soon reveals that he is an immortal man who, along with an Ethopian sect, traded their humanity 400 years ago so he would never die. Bree Newsome, who made headlines in 2015 for removing a Confederate flag from South Carolina state grounds, would be the perfect writer and director to bring Due’s horror classic to life. Newsome’s short film, Wake, tells the story of a sheltered woman who uses folk magic to conjure up a demon to create the man of her dreams, with nightmarish after effects.
7) Black Boy by Richard Wright
Director: F. Gary Gray
F. Gary Gray, who has helped such classic and critically acclaimed films such as Set It Off and Straight Outta Compton, would be our choice in directing an adaptation of Richard Wright’s classic memoir, Black Boy. The novel chronicles Wright’s upbringing in the South to his move to Chicago, where he becomes a member of the Communist Party and laid the seed for his writing career.
8) Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Director: Ryan Coogler
Ralph Ellison’s groundbreaking 1952 novel, Invisible Man, covers a breadth of topics from Black nationalism and Black identity. An adaptation of the novel is also set to air on Hulu, though details on who will write and direct it have not been announced. In the hands of director Ryan Coogler, an adaptation of Invisible Man would be both politically engaging and entertaining, as his last film, Black Panther, proved to be. While making over $1 billion at the international box office, Black Panther also garnered acclaim for how it depicted the complexity of Black identity.
9) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Director: Nana Oforiatta Ayim
Yaa Gyasi’s acclaimed novel, Homegoing is vast in scope and pans several generations and details the Anglo-Asante wars in Ghana to racism in America, all seen through the lens follows a different descendants of an Asante woman named Maame. The novel’s scope could onlybe captured through the eyes of a Ghanian filmmaker and Nana Oforiatta Ayim is our first choice. With a debut novel set to be published in 2019, we’re curious what a film or television adaptation of Yaa Gyasi’s much lauded novel would look like under Ayim’s direction.
10) Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Director: Nijla Mu’min
While director and former S&A writer Nijla Mu’min is tracking up rave reviews for her coming-of-age film Jinn, we’d think she’d be an excellent choice an handling a film adaptation of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, another award winning coming of age narrative with an African American girl front and center. The autobiographical novel documents Woodson’s upbringing as an African American child growing up in South Carolina and New York during the 1960s.
Jordan Simon is an entertainment writer with a degree in English from Fordham University, as well as a screenwriter/director with a passion for producing fresh narratives centered around African American representation. As a journalist, his work has been published in VIBE, Gothamist, Idolator and Untapped Cities. You can tweet him @jordansimon78.