Octavia E. Butler was a science fiction writer who is noted as being the “mother” of Afrofuturism, which is “the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science and technology seen through a black lens,” according to guest writer Jamie Broadnax for Huffpost.com.
Butler, who is a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant and Nebula Award, has a bibliography of stories that center black women, intersect race and gender, and commentate on social and political topics through the genre use of sci-fi, dystopia and horror.
Though Butler received some critical acclaim during her career as a writer, she did not get the full shine she deserved until after her death in 2006. Regarding the market for the kind of subjects she wrote about, including Black injustice, climate change, women’s rights and political disparity, they were not commercially in demand at that time.
Over ten years later we are in a different media landscape that is becoming increasingly conscious about the depiction of intersecting identities and social justice, as well as who is writing, producing, directing, and creating.
27 years after its publication, Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993) made the New York Times Bestseller’s List back in 2020. The novel takes place in the early 2020s, where a Black teenage girl must push back against her strong empathy in order to protect her loved ones from the dangers of the dystopian reality they live in.
The attention that Butler is receiving now is no surprise, considering how much more socially and politically involved many of us are, along with the increasing demand to see BIPOC, especially BIPOC women, represented in roles outside of convention and stereotypes. With this increased recognition of Butler’s work and the relevancy to which it speaks, there is a considerable amount of adaptations of her work coming to both television networks and streaming platforms.
Currently, acclaimed director Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th, A Wrinkle in Time) is developing a series adaptation of Butler’s novel Dawn (1987) for Amazon. Also, the media and shopping juggernaut, in collaboration with JuVee Productions, is also working on adapting Wild Seed (1980), which is to be co-written by Nigerian-American author Ndndei Okroafor and Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu.
More recently, one of Butler’s most acclaimed novels, Kindred (1979) has been picked up by FX for a pilot and potential series.
According to Sy-Fy Wire, American playwright Branden Jacobs Jenkins, a consulting producer on HBO’s Watchmen and a MacArthur Fellow as well, wrote the pilot and will be an executive producer alongside Courtney Lee Mitchell, Joe Weisberg, Darren Aronofsky and Joel Fields. The novel has already been adapted into an award-winning graphic novel by Damian Duffy and John Jennings, receiving an Eisner Award for best adaptation.
These coming adaptations of Butler’s work are incredibly timely, as we are already seeing more nuanced Black representation on our streaming platforms. Though Black representation and involvement in sci-fi, horror, and fantasy are not new, we are certainly beginning to see an onslaught of it in mass media. This increase in representation is raising much-needed awareness of the fact that these fantastical genres of storytelling by Black creatives and starring Black people can be, and have been, just as popular and iconic for audiences regardless of race.
Recent content, such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), Boots Riley’ Sorry to Bother You (2018), Marvel’s Black Panther (2018), Justin Simien’s Bad Hair (2020), HBO’s Lovecraft Country (2020) and the upcoming Them from Amazon Studios, are helping to boost Afrofuturism and representation in these genres into the mainstream. Though her shine was rather delayed, it is important that in this steady proliferation of needed content, Octavia E. Butler and her work are fully recognized.
Butler is credited as a writer who paved the way for Black sci-fi, horror and fantasy authors such as Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, Colson Whitehead, N.K. Jemisin, and many others. She continues to be a major inspiration and her work an incredible influence for many.
NASA having named the landing spot of the Mars rover Perseverance after Octavia E. Butler is a testament to how she broke barriers and as a writer and showed us that we are capable of going above and beyond imposed limits. You can find out more about Octavia E. Butler and her work at her website, Octavia E. Butler.