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Read the Book, See the Movie: Part 1

The Color Purple

America has always prided itself on being a melting pot of people and ideas, where everyone regardless of gender, race, or creed has an opportunity to express their ideas. Nowhere is this more evident than in its fictional creations both on the page and in film, where the country's history and rich heritage have been preserved for over a century.

MORE: Exclusive Q&A: Oscar-winning screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher

Geoffrey Fletcher
Geoffrey Fletcher

Geoffrey Fletcher won the Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay in 2009 for "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire." He is also an adjunct film professor at Columbia University and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

How did the decision come about to include the name of the novel’s author in the full title of "Precious?"

Early on, there was the idea of simply calling the film "Push." From the moment I started writing, however, I felt that "Precious" would be so fitting and I wrote it under that title. After I finished the script, I was told that it would be called "Push" again. Later I heard that Oprah Winfrey, who was an executive producer of the film with Tyler Perry, also liked the title "Precious." Additionally, there was another film called "Push" to be released that year! So, after it was decided that the film would be called "Precious," I assumed that including the title of the book and its author may have been done to link the film with a popular book. Ultimately the title, like so many aspects of this project, took many turns. In any case, it was great to see Sapphire receive such recognition.

"Little Women"
Poster for "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

What challenges did you face capturing the voice of a main character who is so internalized on the page?

The great characters are often universally relatable no matter their time or place. I identified with Precious' struggle against difficult odds to find her place and voice. The difficult odds I faced were those of finding my place and voice in the film industry. The biggest challenge I faced when capturing the voice of a character like Precious was saying good-bye to her at the end of the writing process. I loved her. A few nights ago, I ran into Gabourey Sidibe on the street. She's wonderful. She was on her way to meet one of the actresses from the classroom scenes.

What was your working relationship like with Lee Daniels and Sapphire during the process of writing the screenplay?

Lee Daniels gave me an enormous amount of freedom during the writing process. I gave him the first 17 pages or so "off the meter." I think he saw how inspired I was and just let me go. This freedom made even more sense in retrospect because I later found out that the book was considered untranslatable to film. I'm glad no one told me that earlier. I didn't meet Sapphire until I was nearly finished with the screenplay. I met her in an odd way. We happened to sit next to each other on the subway; I recognized her because I had been looking at her picture on the back of her book for several months.

Among nineteenth-century American novelists, frequent themes were the establishment of a persistent, enterprising outlook for the nation’s people, and the relationship between settled land and the open frontier. The works of one of the most popular writers of the time, Mark Twain, inspired many film adaptations, beginning with the early silent era, and they remain influential today. Two of Twain’s novels that share a number of characters, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), have been adapted numerous times, while another of his adventure-packed social critiques, The Prince and the Pauper (1881), has become a familiar staple, with its characters and settings often reimagined for modern audiences.

stallion road

American combat over the years has yielded a number of epic novels including the record-breaking Gone with the Wind in 1936, the only novel by Margaret Mitchell. A depiction of the impact of the Civil War on the American South, it was adapted into a 1939 film, which, when adjusted for inflation, remains the highest-grossing film of all time. Warfare also plays a significant role in two novels by one of the most famous American novelists, Ernest Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms (1929) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), both of which were adapted into Hollywood films.

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The makeup of American authors reflects the country’s rich variety of ideals and experiences. African-American novelists have been consistently innovative, with major writers including Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, Sapphire and Alex Haley combining social observation with their distinct authorial voices. Two of these novels, The Color Purple (1982) and Push (1996), were translated into major films, the latter in 2009 under the title "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire."Among significant Indian-American authors, Jhumpa Lahiri has used her own life experience as the inspiration for her work, and her first novel, The Namesake (2003), was adapted into a 2007 film directed by Mira Nair.

Additional Links

Read the Book, See the Movie
Margaret Herrick Library
Academy Film Archive

Authors In Hollywood

John Irving

Further cementing the bond between novel and film, many successful novelists have pursued careers writing in Hollywood. For example, John Steinbeck (author of the source novels for films like "Of Mice and Men" and "The Grapes of Wrath") penned "Lifeboat" (1944) for Alfred Hitchcock, and William Faulkner (author of The Sound and the Fury) worked on the screenplays for "Mildred Pierce" (1945) and "The Big Sleep" (1946). Amy Tan and John Irving adapted their own novels, The Joy Luck Club (1989) and The Cider House Rules (1985), for release on the big screen in 1993 and 1999, respectively.  In a unique case, William Goldman has adapted four of his own novels for the screen – "Marathon Man" (1976), "Magic"(1978), "Heat"(1987) and "The Princess Bride" (1987) – along with adapting other authors like John Grisham ("The Chamber," 1996) and Ira Levin ("The Stepford Wives," 1975). Additionally, Goldman scripted three films that were based on novels by Stephen King: "Misery" (1990), "Hearts in Atlantis" (2001) and "Dreamcatcher" (2003).

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