Should authors have more say when their novels are adapted to TV or film?
Short answer: Absolutely. But the long answer is a lot more complicated.
For one, authors write novels for a reason. That’s how they like to express themselves. TV and movie writing is a completely different ballgame. When I studied screenwriting in college, for instance, I had never felt so lost in my life. That being said, I don’t think authors should be entirely removed from their work when it is adapted just because it’s a different art form. In fact, I think it benefits everyone to work together. (I also understand that TV/Film rights have a lot to do with the author’s literary agency and how they negotiated a deal.) After acknowledging that, though, I want to talk about why I wish authors had more say so in the end.
Do you watch Shadowhunters on FreeForm? No. Don’t worry. I’ll write this article around it, but I think it’s a great, modern example of how adaptations can go wrong, even in a damaging way, so it might be easier to understand if you do watch the show or read the books or check out the article I discuss below.
Recently, Cassandra Clare did an interview about the adaption of her popular YA series, The Mortal Instruments, both with the flop-film in 2013 and the current TV series, Shadowhunters. I highly recommend you read this (and share it): Cassandra Clare Shares the Troubles and Triumphs of Seeing the Shadowhunters World Onscreen
Listen, I’m a HUGE Cassandra Clare fan. I’m also a pretty open-minded fan. In fact, I rarely complain about adaptations, because that’s what they are—adaptations—and I even enjoyed the movie. (No, seriously, I own it and watch it all the time.) I was also a fan of the show…until recently.
Returning to the interview (which again, please read), I was appalled by some of the changes and ideas strewn throughout the show.
It grosses me out that FreeForm’s original goal was to take away Alec and Magnus’s relationship, because they are gay, while adding unnecessary violence against the female characters “to attract a male audience.”
I mean, seriously? Does that not gross you out? That entire concept?
Spoilers ahead for books and show. If you want to skip, look for next bolded line.
I was always bothered by Alec’s fiancée Lydia in Season 1, but I can also admit that I didn’t notice the difference in violence against the female cast until last week’s episode. Between Lydia’s attack, Izzy’s attack, Clary being “stabbed” in a dream sequence, and Jocelyn’s death that never happened in the books, I found myself highly uncomfortable and trying to figure out why. Then I read Cassandra Clare’s interview, and it all made sense. I am all for adaptations, but last week’s episode was wrong, whether or not Jocelyn comes back to life in tonight’s episode. (Which, I think, she most likely will.)
End of spoilers.
The new team claims to have a different stance than the previous producers, but last week showed much of the same problematic instances, including unnecessarily violence against the female cast and keeping a gay couple apart because “no audience wants to see that” (insert middle finger here). I also did not find it a coincidence that they only sent Clare the first three episodes of Season 2 for her approval and then this fourth one followed the original, damaging aspects. Granted, will I watch it tonight? Probably. I want to see if they’ll change their ways before I judge too harshly. But that doesn’t change my opinion about last week’s episode or what we learned through Clare’s interview—an interview, I will add, that was very brave. Authors aren’t normally so open and honest about this topic. Mainly because there is a conflict of interest, but also because we expect authors to simply be grateful that their work is being adapted at all. A sentiment I disagree with.
I am so glad Cassandra Clare fought to change some of the script, because the changes didn’t just misrepresent the story; the changes misrepresented the work (and the author) entirely.
If an adaptation is homophobic, racist, sexist, or otherwise damaging, shouldn’t an author be able to step in and stop it?
Again, I’m ALL for adaptations. I’m not saying that an author should have the final say over every little thing, or even over major aspects of book-to-movie life. But I do believe in creating better, positive pieces of art. And if a director told me they were going to start abusing females and tearing LGBTQIA characters apart because “men like that”, I’d hope that the world would back me up in stopping such an atrocity.
What do you think? Should authors have more say-so in adaptations? If so, what should they have control over and when? Where is the line? And should they draw a new one?