Books by literary luminaries like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Sapphire and Nella Larsen hold a special place in our hearts and take up cherished space on our bookshelves and e-readers. We are equally excited when these magical works are transformed into films.
One adaptation we’re looking forward to is Octavia E. Butler’s prophetic Parable of the Sower, about a young woman who can literally feel the pain of others in the not-so-distant future plagued by racism, climate change and religious extremism (sounds a lot like our current reality). The story will be directed by filmmaker Garrett Bradley, known for her acclaimed documentaries, Time and Naomi Osaka.
And if you’re jonesing to watch a captivating flick derived from a bestselling book right now, here are five films currently streaming.
Passing (Watch on Netflix)
This tale of biracial childhood friends Clare (Ruth Negga) and Irene (Tessa Thompson) who reunite as adults in segregated New York City in the ’20s, is based on Nella Larsen’s groundbreaking novel published in 1929. While Irene identifies as African American and lives with her Black husband, a doctor, and their sons in Harlem, Clare “passes” as white and is married to a bigoted, wealthy white man. Clare is both repelled and intrigued by Irene’s rebellious choices. This complicated story is in good hands with first-time director Rebecca Hall, who is also of mixed racial heritage.
The Color Purple (Watch on HBO Max)
Steven Spielberg beautifully adapted Alice Walker’s tale of self-love and sisterhood to the silver screen. In The Color Purple we marvel watching Whoopi Goldberg transform into Miss Celie, a downtrodden Southern woman forced into an abusive marriage who later in life blossoms into a self-assured entrepreneur. Quincy Jones’ score is magical and the entire cast, including Danny Glover as mean ole Mister, Margaret Avery as the seductive Shug Avery and Oprah as tough cookie Sofia, is stellar.
The Sun Is Also a Star (Rent on Amazon)
The stunning Yara Shahidi stars in the film version of Nicola Yoon’s popular young adult novel, The Sun Is Also a Star, about a Jamaican-born young woman named Natasha who over the course of a day reluctantly falls in love with an attractive stranger. In this star-crossed tale, it happens to be on a day her family faces the threat of deportation.
Precious (Rent on Amazon)
Directed by Lee Daniels, Precious is based on Sapphire’s spellbinding novel Push, about an overweight and illiterate Black teen mom daydreaming of a better life. This was our introduction to the dynamic Gabourey Sidibe, and Mo’Nique gives the performance of her lifetime as Precious’ volatile and physically and emotionally abusive mother. The film costars Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz, and Paula Patton plays the supportive teacher who helps Precious learn to read, write and believe in herself.
Beloved (Rent on Amazon)
It was a labor of love for Oprah to bring Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to life in the ambitious film adaptation she starred in and produced. Here, Oprah masterfully portrays Sethe, a strong-willed sister who escapes slavery but years later is still haunted by the ghost of her deceased daughter, identified on her grave simply as “Beloved.” Kimberly Elise is a revelation as Sethe’s surviving daughter Denver, and Thandiwe Newton is riveting as the reincarnated baby “Beloved.” Although the film flopped when it was released in 1998, it has aged well, and is relevant alongside contemporary psychological horror dramas like Get Out and Antebellum.