Beacon Books Making the Jump from the Page to the Screen
December 01, 2022
Have you ever watched a Beacon book before? Grab your popcorn and your favorite seat for binge viewing because a handful of them have or will be taking to the screen as narrative films, documentaries, and TV miniseries! Here are five adaptations to cue up on your streaming accounts.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States and Silencing the Past
With Raoul Peck’s Exterminate All the Brutes, you get a Beacon two-for-one special: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States and Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History in one docuseries. Over the course of four episodes, Peck examines the history of Native American genocide and American slavery to reframe the overarching aftermath of European colonialism.
Dunbar-Ortiz recalled on Beacon Broadside how she was stunned that the filmmaker she most admired in the world had read her book and made it a part of his series. “He said he had never conceived of United States continental imperialism,” she added, “only US imperialism, and of course, the thirty plus years that the United States occupied Haiti. He then asked me if I would work with him on it, with such humility in his voice, as if I might decline!” She joined the production as a consultant.
Produced by HBO Documentary Films, Velvet Film, Sky Documentaries, and ARTE France, Exterminate All the Brutes aired on HBO on April 7, 2021.
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
It started with a Twitter thread. When author Jeanne Theoharis tweeted about Rosa Parks’s lifelong activism on February 4, 2019, filmmaker Johanna Hamilton caught sight of it and asked her if a documentary on Parks was already in the works. Just as surprised as we were that there was not, Hamilton brought in a second director, Yoruba Richen, to bring Theoharis’s NAACP Image Award-winning biography to the screen. Then Soledad O’Brien’s production company came to the project in 2020, and Peacock funded it this spring. Theoharis worked as a consulting producer.
Theoharis had remarked on Beacon Broadside that working on it was a labor of love. She played a role in who was interviewed (watch for fellow Beacon author Dr. Mary Frances Berry as an interviewee), the questions asked, the kinds of places to look for archival materials, and many of the key details in this huge sweep of history that is Rosa Parks’s life of activism.
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks began streaming on Peacock this year on October 19.
Long before and after Octavia E. Butler’s untimely death in 2006, her fans had been hankering for decades to see a novel of hers get the screen treatment, big or small. How could studios ignore the work of the first science-fiction author to be dubbed a MacArthur genius? Kindred is often the gateway to Butler fandom, and thus the most likely adaptation candidate. Now, the wait is finally over.
Mallori Johnson, fresh out of Juilliard in her debut leading role, stars as Dana James—Dana Franklin in the novel—alongside Micah Stock, who plays her partner, Kevin Franklin, in the FX Networks TV series adaptation. Not to be confused with the British indie horror film of the same name but a completely different storyline or with the thriller Antebellum, which has a similar conceit of a modern-day Black woman mysteriously trapped on a Southern slave plantation. Butler’s time-travel classic came first. Speaking of the horror/thriller genre, notice how Kindred has recently entered the horror canon and how this teaser is clearly targeting Jordan Peele fans.
MacArthur fellow and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins adapted Butler’s novel and serves as the showrunner. He also executive-produces the series with Joe Weisberg, Joel Fields, Darren Aronofsky, and Ari Handel of Protozoa Pictures; Courtney Lee-Mitchell; and Jules Jackson. Janicza Bravo directed and executive-produced the pilot episode. All eight episodes of season one—there are plans for a second season!—will be available to stream on Hulu on December 13. How heartbreaking, though, that Butler isn’t alive for this.
Storming Caesars Palace
In Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty, Annelise Orleck penned the story of Ruby Duncan and other revolutionary Black women welfare organizers of Las Vegas who spearheaded an evergreen, radical revisioning of American economic justice. Their trailblazing movement proved that poor mothers were the real experts on poverty, providing job training, libraries, medical access, daycare centers, and housing to the poor in Las Vegas throughout the 1970s. As today’s news fills with headlines about workers fighting for livable wages, the lives of these hidden figures prove to be all too relevant.
Orleck’s book is the inspiration for filmmaker Hazel Gurland-Pooler’s first feature-length documentary of the same name. Honored with the Ken Burns/Lavine/Library of Congress finalist prize, it had its premiere at the BlackStar Film Festival on August 3, 2022, and will air on PBS on March 20, 2023.
Disability rights activist Judy Heumann already appeared in the Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp, so it was only a matter of time until her life story stoked filmic interest. Her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job, and just be human shined a light on the long-overlooked history of the Disability Rights Movement in the United States.
A year before director Siân Heder’s film CODA took home three Oscars, news broke that Heder was adapting Heumann’s memoir, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, as a biopic for Apple Original Films. She is producing it with David Permut through his Permut Presentations and Heumann’s managers, John W. Beach and Kevin Cleary of Gravity Squared Entertainment. Heumann and her coauthor, Kristen Joiner, are joining the crew as executive producers.
Tony Award-winning actor Ali Stroker has been eyed, though not confirmed, to star as Heumann. She did, however, portray Heumann in Drunk History’s enactment of the Section 504 sit-in. We book groupies can dream.
About the Author
Christian Coleman is the digital marketing manager at Beacon Press and editor of Beacon Broadside. Before joining Beacon, he worked in writing, copy editing, and marketing positions at Sustainable Silicon Valley and Trikone. He graduated from Boston College and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Follow him on Twitter at @coleman_II.