Adaptation and African American Literature

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
contact email: 

In 2021, Nella Larsen’s novel Passing was made into a Hollywood film, before premiering on Netflix in fall of that year. The film garnered many prestigious awards, with critics praising the producer, script, and of course, the acting. Yet the film did not receive any Oscar nominations. To some, this omission is quite surprising, given the unanimous acclaim the movie has already received. To others, this exemplifies Hollywood: they often award golden statuettes to Black movies that are rooted in stereotypical Black images of slavery, violence, and the white savior complex, among many others.

Passing is just one of many African American literary works adapted for the screen over the past few years. Other recent examples include August Wilson’s play Fences (made into a Hollywood film in 2016) and Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad (which premiered on Amazon in 2021). This panel explores African American Literature and adaptations for the large and small screen. Questions to consider include, but aren’t limited to:

1. What types of African American literary works get adapted? Do they tell similar or disparate narratives of African Americans?

2. How are Black literary adaptations received by popular and critical audiences?

3. Given the example of Larsen’s Passing, do certain types of Black adaptations earn prestigious awards and praise more than others?

4. How do the adaptations specifically revise original works for the screen? How are they updated for modern audiences or do they maintain strict fidelity to original texts?

5. How can we teach cinematic adaptations to our students: Comparatively? Stand-alone genres? Something else?

Papers can address cinematic adaptations of African American Literature, or compare/contrast different works (i.e. Alex Haley’s Roots from 1977 and its 2016 remake). The main goal is to explore the ways in which some Black texts get the Hollywood treatment while others do not. Submit proposals to

Please contact Dr. Donavan L. Ramon with questions about this panel, at