Banned Books Week started in 1982 and has since worked toward promoting open access to books in libraries and schools. Many of the books once banned or challenged have gone on to be considered classics and are staples of American literature.
As often happens with great novels, Hollywood has adapted many of these stories to film. While in print they received lots of pushback, ironically, the film versions of these books were often met with great praise and nominated for prestigious awards. These three suggestions represent just a small sampling of the movies that give a new life to banned books.
All of the following titles appear on the American Library Association’s list of Banned and Challenged Classics as well as the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.
‘A FAREWELL TO ARMS’ (1932)
Banned Book History — Published in 1929, the novel by Ernest Hemingway was banned that same year from newsstands in Boston and deemed “pornographic.” It was challenged at the Dallas Independent School District high school libraries in 1974.
The film adaptation of this wartime love story came just a few years after the novel’s publication. Despite its brief runtime, this movie manages to pack quite the emotional punch. Military nurse Catherine and Lt. Frederic find themselves trying to fit a lifetime’s worth of courtship and marriage into the limited time they have set by the confines of war. Forbidden to have a relationship while serving their military, attempts are constantly being made to keep the two apart. While an end to the battle seems near, so does the fate of the couple in this Academy Award winning film.
‘THE GREAT GATSBY’ (1974)
Banned Book History — This widely known novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald was published in 1925 and has been often challenged. Although we have come a long way from the jazz era in which the story takes place, as recently as 2020 it has been banned from high schools in an Alaska school district along with four other titles.
This staple of American Literature has been adapted to film many times over the years. This iteration stars Robert Redford as the elusive Jay Gatsby, who some may recognize from the oft mistaken ‘Nodding Guy’ meme, and Rosemary’s Baby star, Mia Farrow, as Daisy Buchanan. Aside from the cast, what really sets this one apart is that it was written for the screen by none other than Francis Ford Coppola. For those familiar with this classic story of wealth, obsession, and revenge but aren’t fond of the over-the-top style of Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version, this may just be the one for you.
‘LORD OF THE FLIES’ (1963)
Banned Book History — This 1954 novel by William Golding and has been featured in numerous “best of” lists, yet it is also often listed as one of the most banned and challenged books of all time. In 1984, the Olney Independent School District in Texas claimed it included “excessive violence and bad language.”
With its reputation as a classic novel, “Lord of the Flies” has been adapted for the stage, radio, and of course, the screen. Often considered the most faithful adaptation of the novel, director Peter Brook didn’t use professional child actors. The children were allowed to improvise some of the dialogue, lending itself to a certain kind of authenticity that comes through the screen. This story of young boys and their fight for survival was met with critical praise and was nominated for the coveted Palme d’Or award at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival. A new adaptation is said to be in the works by “Bones and All” director Luca Guadagnino, making this a great time to check out this classic.