'Fahrenheit 451' to 'A Wrinkle in Time': 13 Banned Books Adapted for the Screen

9:45 AM 5/19/2018

by Lexy Perez

A stack of controversial books is making its way to the big and small screen despite the works facing backlash in some communities.

'Fahrenheit 451,' 'A Wrinkle in Time,' and '13 Reasons Why'
'Fahrenheit 451,' 'A Wrinkle in Time,' and '13 Reasons Why'
Michael Gibson/HBO; Photofest; Beth Dubber/Netflix

With all of the successful films adapted from books — such as It, Twilight, the Harry Potter franchise, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc. —  a new chapter in the world of literature adaptations has begun, with a twist. Despite being popular among readers, the stories behind recent screen adaptations such as HBO's Fahrenheit 451 and Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time have also appeared on the American Library Association's list of banned or altered books. 

Though some of the most challenged works were banned more than 80 years ago (such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye), some more contemporary books have also drawn community opposition and been banned in recent years, including Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which have both been recently adapted for the screen. 

This Saturday, HBO debuts its adaptation of Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, which itself is centered on the banning and burning of books. Below, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at a few adaptations portraying formerly censored stories along with a few that have already made their way to the box office. 

  • Fahrenheit 451

    Release date: May 19

    HBO offered a haunting first glimpse in February of its film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s best-selling 1953 dystopian tale, which stars Michael B. Jordan as Guy Montag, a fireman who comes to question his role in enforcing the state’s censorship laws of banning and burning books. In ironic circumstances, Bradbury’s story was banned from libraries throughout the years 2000- 2009, after controversy brewed from one of the burned books mentioned in the story being the Bible. According to co-writer, executive producer and director Ramin Bahrani, HBO will stay true to Bradbury’s story thematically, but will differ from the controversial source material. "When you do an adaptation, you're going to change things," said Bahrani. "I knew I would upset somebody. I tried to stay true to the themes, even if I changed certain characters and plot lines. To take them and modernize them. It wasn't easy."

  • 13 Reasons Why

    Release date: May 18

    Beth Dubber/Netflix

    When Jay Asher’s book was adapted for a popular Netflix series last year, the controversial series faced backlash for its sensitive premise. The novel was first banned in 2012, as critics accused the author for glamorizing suicide and for being a negative influence to its young readers and audience after the main character details her reasoning behind her suicide via recorded audio tapes. With the second season currently streaming, Netflix has responded to the backlash, now having issued warning and crisis hotlines cards to the first season and released the findings of a global research study the streaming service commissioned with Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development. Following the study, Netflix will also now feature cast introductions about the nature of the show, an online hub of resources at 13ReasonsWhy.Info that includes a downloadable discussion guide created with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a season two aftershow to continue the conversation with castmembers, experts and producers on some of the show's tough topics. 

  • The Handmaid's Tale

    Release date: April 25

    George Kraychyk/Hulu

    Though Hulu has found success with its series adaptation of the gritty novel by Margaret Atwood, the author has faced backlash for her story in years past, appearing on the ALA's compiled list of the top 100 banned books of the decade, in both the 1990s and 2000s. After the book was published in 1985, Atwood’s dystopian tale about a totalitarian theocracy was challenged by schools for featuring sexually explicit material, as well as being “detrimental to Christian values.” Despite being questioned for its cutting-edge material, Atwood still received raved reviews and has won countless awards, such as the 1985 Governor General’s Award, the first Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 1986 Booker Price. After being adapted into a series by Hulu, Tale has won four Emmys, including an outstanding lead actress win for Elisabeth Moss and best supporting actress win for Ann Dowd. The second season is now available to stream. 

  • Frankenstein

    Release date: May 25

    Courtesy of TIFF

    Mary Shelley’s tale about a scientist who creates a grotesque creature via an unorthodox science experiment was a revolutionary novel in the romantic era for being an early example of science fiction. Though receiving positive public response, the book has endured its fair share of criticism from religious leaders, who condemned the story’s focus on a God-like creation of life. Shelley’s novel was banned in 1955 in South Africa for being “obscene and objectionable.” Though denounced by some, the book continues to be featured in school curriculum across the U.S. Shelley’s origin story of the tale will be portrayed in the upcoming biopic Mary Shelley, with Elle Fanning set to portray the author. 

  • A Wrinkle in Time

    Release date: March 9

    Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    Since its publication 54 years ago, Madeleine L’Engle’s novel about a young girl and her little brother, whom travel to a tesseract planet their scientist father has been trapped in for five years, has been featured in the top 100 banned or challenged books from 1990-1999, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the ALA. Though a popular children’s novel, L’Engle’s book has faced criticism for its fantastical elements, also becoming a target for conservative Christian groups. In the novel, L’Enegle equates Jesus with Einstein, Gandhi, Da Vinci and Buddha. This year, the film adaptation featured an A-list ensemble, including Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling and Zach Galifianakis.

     

  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Release date: Feb. 9

    This year, the film franchise — starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan — that premiered in 2015 concluded with the third installment, Fifty Shades Freed. Though the films have been critically panned and continuously earned nominations for Razzie Awards, the franchise has had a dedicated fan base who have supported the adaptations. When E.L. James’ debut novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, hit shelves in 2011, the story about a college student falling in love with a billionaire whom explores a BDSM lifestyle, garnered attention from the public with the premise sparking controversy among critics. The dark love story was banned from varied libraries, in 2012, for its sexually explicit content and offensive language. Apart from the film franchise, James's book also inspired Paramount Pictures' new film, Book Club, starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen. In the film, the close-knit group of women spice up their book club by reading the Grey series, with their sex lives following suit. 

  • Catch-22

    Release date: TBD

    Getty Images (Clooney)

    Joseph Heller's 1961 story centered around a U.S. Air Force bombardier in World War II has been recognized as a classic among readers, but the novel was banned in Ohio in the '70s, because the author referred to women as "whores" in various instances throughout the story. Despite stirring controversy, the book continues to remain in school curriculum. Earlier this year, it was announced that Hulu would adapt Heller's novel into a six-part miniseries with George Clooney. Paramount Television owned the rights to Heller's satirical novel and developed the upcoming series under head Amy Powell, who identified the book as one of the first projects she'd like to create since being tapped to run the studio.

  • Looking for Alaska

    Release date: TBD

    Courtesy of Speak

    Hulu announced that it would be adapting John Green’s 2005 novel, Looking for Alaska, into an eight-episode miniseries after Green endured a 13-year journey of bringing the YA story to screen. Though the story about a student reeling from the unexpected death of a classmate he fell in love with was popular among Green fans, the author was unable to escape wrath from critics. Alaska was featured in the compiled list of most challenged books of 2015 and 2016, citing that Green's novel was banned for featuring "offensive language,” “sexually explicit descriptions,” referencing homosexuality and unsuitable religious viewpoints. Green responded to the backlash in a YouTube video, where he argued against the banning, saying, “So far as I can tell that kind of narrowly prescriptive reading only happens in the offices of school superintendents.” Apart from facing critics, the author also struggled with adapting the novel to screen after Paramount Pictures shelved their plans for a feature film, after first acquiring the rights in 2005. After news broke that Hulu would adapt the novel, Green celebrated with a fan Q&A, where he expressed his excitement that his “voice was heard” for fans to be able to witness the story finally come to life. Green will executive produce the series. 

  • The Hate U Give

    Release Date: TBD

    Courtesy of HarperCollins

    In Angie Thomas's YA book, published last year, the author tells the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who juggles between two worlds: living in a poor neighborhood and attending an elite prep school. Things become more complicated when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer, though her friend was unarmed. Despite winning multiple awards and being recognized on Goodreads throughout its debut year, the YA novel was challenged and banned by school libraries last year after being considered “pervasively vulgar” for its profanity, offensive language and drug use. Though now being adapted by Fox for a feature film, Thomas’s story continues to stir trouble after actor Kian Lawley was cut from his role following the surfacing of a video of him making racially charged jokes and using racist slurs, ironic to the novel's story premise. K.J. Apa, the star of The CW’s Riverdale, replaced the actor, with the studio having to undergo reshoots in order to remove Lawley from the movie that wrapped filming in November. "I respect Fox’s decision to recast this role for The Hate U Give as it is an important story, and it would not be appropriate for me to be involved considering the actions of my past," Lawley said in a statement in February after the news broke that the studio would be recasting his role. Lawley was later dropped by his agency, CAA.

     

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

    Release date: TBD

    Courtesy of LBYR

    Fox 2000 has acquired Sherman Alexie’s 2007 YA novel with an A-list ensemble to follow including Hugh Jackman, Temple Hill's Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner (The Fault in Our Stars) and Lauren Shuler Donner (Deadpool). The novel is a coming of age story, detailing the life of a fourteen-year-old Native American living on the Spokane Indian Reservation and his decision to go to an all-white public high school. Alexie had received numerous offers over the years to adapt his novel for the screen, "but until this particular team, I've never had a set of producers be so faithful to the book," he told THR. Though Alexie is executive producing and adapting the screenplay for the “culturally authentic” film, the novel has faced challenges since its 2007 publication. The book was first banned in 2010, with critics slamming Alexie's story for addressing issues of poverty, sexuality and alcoholism. The novel was also challenged in school curriculums due to situations that were deemed sexually explicit. The book has been recognized as of the top ten challenged books of 2012- 2014, continuing to face criticism as recent as last year. 

     

  • Captain Underpants

    Release date: June 2, 2017

    Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

    Dav Pilkey’s young reader series about a principal turned superhero donned in underwear has been a popular staple among children’s books since its 1997 publication. Intended to be a fun tale for kids, the book was still one of the top 10 banned books of 2012, with critics citing the story included offensive language unsuited for young readers. Despite being questioned for its deemed inappropriate content, the series was adapted for the big screen last year in Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, starring a voice cast that included Kevin Hart, Ed Helms and Jordan Peele. 

  • The Glass Castle

    Release Date: Aug. 11, 2017

    Courtesy of Lionsgate

    The film adaptation, starring Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, debuted on the big screen last August. Though written as a personal memoir, author Jeannette Walls's story was recognized as one of the top banned books of 2012. Despite the book centering on Walls's upbringing with her dysfunctional family, the book was cited as being being sexually explicit and criticized for featuring offensive nature, after Walls details her life dealing with poverty and an alcohol-abusing family. Parents demanded the book be banned from curriculum for projecting profanity and oppressive content. Though receiving criticism, Walls's memoir still ranked on The New York Times best-seller list for its artistic merit. 

  • The Catcher in the Rye

    Release date: Sept. 8, 2017

    Courtesy of Sundance

    J.D. Salinger’s 1951 tale about adolescent Holden Caufield was adapted for the screen in 2017 with Rebel in the Rye with Nicholas Hoult portraying the reclusive author in the Salinger biopic. The film, helmed by director Danny Strong, made its premiere during last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Though the film was adapted from Kenneth Slawenski penned biography, J.D. Salinger: A Life, the story centers on the birth of Salinger’s renowned novel that soared him to heights of the literary world. The Catcher in the Rye has been recognized as one of the most censored books in high schools and libraries in the United States, first being challenged in 1960. Critics have continued to denounce the book for featuring sexual content and offensive language unsuited to a younger age group.