Bravo, Bradley, and Butler

Octavia E. Butler

When writer Octavia E. Butler passed away in 2006 at the age of fifty-eight, Dream Hampton wrote in the Village Voice that her twelve novels “encourage a compulsion to tear through one after the other, to never want to be away from her sprawling universes and her staggering humanity.” Butler was the first author of science fiction to receive a MacArthur Fellowship and the first Black woman to win Hugo and Nebula awards. As Stephen Kearse wrote in a recent guide to her work for the New York Times, the “firsts are the least interesting part of her story, though. Above all, Butler was an observer and ponderer. The probing mind that animates her novels, short stories, and essays is obsessed with the viability of the human enterprise. Will we survive our worst habits? Will we change? Do we want to?”

Garrett Bradley, whose Time was nominated for a best documentary Oscar last year, has signed on to direct an adaptation of Butler’s Parable of the Sower for A24. In his report for Deadline, Justin Kroll notes that “the book has recently been rediscovered by fans and appeared on the New York Times best-seller list for the first time in September 2020, fulfilling a lifelong dream of Butler’s.” Written in 1993 and set in 2024, Parable tracks Lauren Olamina—“a delusional empath, barely out of her teens,” as Hampton describes her—as she guides “her cadre by foot to safe ground” after Los Angeles has been burnt to the ground.

In 2018, Tananarive Due, a film historian who focuses on Black horror, called Parable the “scariest book I’ve ever read.” Writing for the New York Times, Due observes how “this book’s dystopia of walled-off communities, useless government, unchecked violence, and corporate slavery feels like the waiting headlines of tomorrow—and too many of our headlines today.”

Janicza Bravo’s Zola—which the A.V. Club’s Shannon Miller calls “a zany, catastrophic road-trip dramedy”—is winning over critics and audiences alike. Two weeks ago, Deadline’s Denise Petski reported that Bravo will direct newcomer Mallori Johnson in the pilot of a projected series adaptation of Butler’s 1979 novel, Kindred. Johnson will play Dana, a young Black woman starting a new life in Los Angeles with her white partner when she is yanked through a loophole in the time-space continuum that transports her to the antebellum South. “I first read Kindred twenty years ago,” said Bravo as she announced the project. “I was in college. I hadn’t ever seen myself in a world like that. And certainly not at its center.”

Though we haven’t heard much about it in over a year, a third Butler project is very likely still in the works. Back in 2017, Deadline’s Dominic Patten reported that Ava DuVernay was teaming up with director Victoria Mahoney for a series adaptation of Dawn, the 1987 novel that launched a trilogy first published as Xenogenesis, and then in 2000, as Lilith’s Brood. Early in 2020, the project reappeared in headlines as an Amazon Studios series, and according to Lesley Goldberg in the Hollywood Reporter, it was “currently in development with a sizable script-to-series commitment.” The pandemic may have slowed things down, but hopefully, this series is still on.

In Dawn, Lilith Iyapo, a Black woman, finds herself on a spaceship. Over time, she learns that a nuclear war nearly wiped out nearly all of humanity 250 years ago. She’s initially repulsed by her alien caretakers but soon enough realizes that if they work together, they can make Earth habitable again. Reviewing the Library of America’s new collection of work by Butler for Bookforum, Gabrielle Bellot writes that Butler “called out bigotry unflinchingly; she also imagined futures in which we have so thoroughly dismissed the crude prejudices of racism, sexism, and anti-queerness that we can learn to embrace that which seems Other, such that it ceases to be Other at all.” Butler’s work “now speaks poignantly to an America—so starkly polarized as to seem like two separate planets whose races, unlike in Butler’s fiction, have failed to coexist—that needs her blunt but empathetic vision more than ever.”

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