Screen adaptations a rarity for female authors

Widows and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald both hit theaters November 15, with the latter earning $9.1 million on its opening night according to early Deadline reports. Both films are written by best-selling authors – Widows by Gillian Flynn and Fantastic Beasts by JK Rowling. Their screenplays are entirely original, not adapted from novels.

Flynn is one of few authors who adapted her own novel for the big screen – Gone Girl was published in 2012 and held the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list for eight weeks. She adapted the screenplay for David Fincher’s infamous 2014 film to great critical acclaim and box office reception. She also wrote three episodes of HBO’s Sharp Objects, a buzzy mini-series based on her 2006 novel.

Rowling of course wrote seven best-selling Harry Potter novels which spawned eight films, a Tony-winning Broadway play and theme parks. Her magical wizarding world that has enlightened the imaginations of millions children and adults alike. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) is Rowling’s first official screenplay – all eight Potter films were written and directed by men with Rowling’s advice and collaboration. (Beasts director David Yates helmed the final four Potter films.) “”It’s like learning a completely new language,” Rowling said in 2016 of screenwriting. “I learned to write a screenplay while writing a screenplay.” Three additional Beasts films are in the works, starring Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, set in a wizarding world before Hogwarts had ever heard the name Harry.

So why don’t more authors adapt their own screenplays? The women listed below took their own artistic visions from page and stage to screen.

People: Whoopi Goldberg, Ashley Judd, Jenna Elfman, John Benjamin Hickey
Photo by Antony Platt/Antony Platt – © 2015 Picturehouse. All rights reserved.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Playwright Lucy Alibar wrote this one-act play in 2010, based on her father’s declining health. Along with director Benh Zeilin, Alibar developed the complex into a screenplay at Sundance Institute’s Screenwriting Lab before shooting in 2012. After screening at the Cannes Film Festival, the film was then nominated for multiple awards, including best adapted screenplay by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis was nominated for best actress for her performance as Hushpuppy, making her the youngest nominee ever in that category.

Big Stone Gap: Adriana Trigiani is an author of 16 books, and she wrote and directed Big Stone Gap in 2014, starring Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg, PAtrick Wilson and Jenna Elfman. Judd’s character, Ave Maria, explains, “Life was simple in Big Stone Gap,” the small coal-mining town in Virginia where she grew up. The 1978-set comedy follows Ave’s life as the “town spinster,” who just turned 40 years old and feels stuck between running her late father’s pharmacy and wanting to see the world. When her mother dies and she discovers a life-changing secret about her ancestry, she feels even more torn between the town that has shaped her and the world outside. Based on her upbringing in the real-life, 5,000-population town of Big Stone Gap, the author was determined to tell a story about people and the power of hope. Trigiani told the co-anchors of Today, “It’s the kind of movie, when you’re sitting home and you’re depressed or you’ve hit a wall and you need hope, you go to the movies and this will bring you back. You feel redeemed when it’s over. You feel uplifted.”

Me Before You: Author JoJo Moyes had already published six novels before Me Before You exploded in 2012, selling eight million copies worldwide. The novel spawned two equally heartwarming sequels, After You and Still Me; Moyes also penned the screenplay for the director Thea Sharrock’s film adaptation released in 2016, starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. The book jumped to number one for most of summer 2016, following the film’s release – which grossed $208 million worldwide despite a 57 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and controversy surrounding the story’s depiction of disabled people. Moyes co-wrote the upcoming drama Head Full of Honey, in theaters November 30.

Postcards from the Edge: Actor, writer and novelist Carrie Fisher published Postcards From the Edge in 1987 before writing the screenplay in 1990. Directed by Mike Nichols, the semi-autobiographical film follows an actress coping with life after a drug overdose – including have to move in with her movie-star mother. Though it seemed to echo the public relationship between Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, the latter told Larry King in 1990, “Everyone thinks it’s me – it’s not. Carrie wrote a novel.” Starring Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine and Dennis Quaid, Fisher was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Postcards from the Edge. She went on to write three additional novels and four memoirs before her untimely death in 2016.

Other notable examples of female authors and playwrights who adapted their own work for the screen – Beth Henley adapted Crimes of the Heart in 1986, based on her play and starring Diane Keaton, Sissy Spacek and Jessica Lange as sisters who come together after the youngest shoots her abusive husband. An abusive husband is also killed in Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), adapted by author Fannie Flagg from her 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Both films were nominated for Academy Awards for best adapted screenplay. Judy Blume adapted her 1981 novel Tiger Eyes in 2012 to be directed by her son, Lawrence. Blume recently sold the rights to one of her most popular novels, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret to The Edge of Seventeen director Kelly Fremon Craig and prolific producer James L. Brooks.

Featured image: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo credits: J.K. Rowling at an event for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

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