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Why should we change book-to-movie adaptations?

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Most book-to-movie adaptations suck. It's always the same old story: fans are disappointed time after time when their favourite books are torn apart by cheap budgeting and horrible plot changes. This is why I think we should change how books are adapted to movies.

But first, we need to understand why these adaptations are such big problems?

One of the biggest problems is that characters become white, when they were written as a person of colour. This is especially the case in comics and manga where, more than often than not, characters of different racial backgrounds are casted as white actors. Take the case of the famous Batman trilogy: The Dark Knight. In this popular adaptation of the Batman comics, they made three major characters white: Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia, who are both of East Asian descent, as well as Bane who is Latino.

Another problem is the predominance of heteronormativity in these adaptations. Take the case Every Day by David Levithan’s screen adaptation, in which a person named A assumes the body of a different person each day. Dismantling gender as a social construct is a key theme of the novel, and the main character in the book doesn’t personally see itself as a boy or girl, but rather as a person with no romantic preference for any gender. The movie however, barely addresses this subject and even constricts the different bodies A inhabits by making the majority of them male and not showing the different types of romantic relationships which were depicted in the novel.

This is problematic as it isn’t giving people of different ethnicities and sexualities the chance to be casted, and because it erases the backgrounds of these characters.

Media is supposed to be a safe space in which people can come to terms with themselves. But, without authentic representation of people’s different identities, it is harder for viewers to relate to characters they see on screen.

It doesn’t even have to be something as serious as having only white or straight characters, but changes in the character’s personality when creating a film adaptation can have a huge impact on the quality of the movie, sometimes even reducing the significance of a character and disempowering them. We all know the famous shoelace incident: the whole internet was angered by the way Ginny in Harry Potter was framed as a submissive and meek in the movies despite being a strong and powerful character in her own right. She’s not just Harry’s love interest or Ron's younger sister.

Additionally, the authors have their whole life’s work destroyed when their books are adapted into these films. When they sell the rights to their book to movie producers, most authors lose any authority and choice over how the movie or series is produced. They have little to no creative control, and low budgets often mean that it's not enough to authentically recreate the stories. This means that the directors end up cutting major plot points to fit their budget. However, this leads to bad box office performance and low audience ratings, meaning it was a bad investment in the first place and, overall, a waste of money, time and energy.

We need to get authors to have control over their adaptations and, in turn, improve the diversity in casting to get authentic representation of a story and it’s characters. This is the 21st century: when diversity is stronger than ever and most are accepting of your identity, people should be free to safely find an emotional connection with characters on screen.

And progress can be made: take Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. The original films are infamous for their bad casting and horrible plot changes, it was so unpopular they stopped after the second movie. Rick Riordan didn’t exactly hold back from making his feelings heard, saying: ‘[my] life’s work [is] going through a meat grinder’. However, Disney is remaking the popular book series into a TV series, with Riordan fully on board with a great deal of creative control.

With such an example, now is the perfect time to follow these steps and make a change. We must improve the quality of these adaptations to create a diverse and safe space for people all over the world.

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