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Read it First - Banned Books on the Big Screen

Elizabeth Graney, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department,
6 banned books and banned books week logo
Banned Books Week is September 26 – October 2, 2021

Every year during the last week of September, the American Library Association and libraries everywhere celebrate Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week promotes freedom of expression, freedom of access to information, and the freedom to read. During this time we shed light on the books that have faced challenges and censorship in public and school libraries across the country. In 2020 alone, 273 books were targeted for removal or censorship. Often, these popular or classic works feature themes some may consider too mature or inappropriate for a younger audience. Many of these books have been adapted to film over the years, with several of the film adaptations facing censorship challenges of their own. Read on to find out which classic titles have faced challenges over the years and why.

Watch and Read at Home

Book cover for A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange
Burgess, Anthony

In a dystopic future society under the rule of an oppressive totalitarian government, gangs of juvenile delinquents roam the streets at night, raping, robbing and beating those they encounter. After being caught in the act of robbing an elderly woman, Alex, the 15 year old leader of one of these gangs, is sent to prison where he is signed up for an experimental behavior modification therapy aimed at curbing his violent tendencies. A Clockwork Orange is a darkly satirical look at good versus evil, freedom versus authority and young versus old. Burgess’ novel has faced multiple challenges over the years for its depiction of violence and rape, with a challenge taking place as recently as 2019 in Florida. In 1973, a bookseller in Utah was arrested and fined for selling the book and cities in Colorado, Connecticut and Alabama banned the novel in the 1970s.

The award-winning 1971 film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick was initially banned in multiple countries including Ireland, Singapore and South Africa.  

Book cover for The Color Purple
The Color Purple
Walker, Alice

One of the 100 most banned books from 2000-2009, Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple deals with the fate of African American women in the South in the 1930s. Told through the letters of a young African American woman named Celie, the novel follows her and the women in her life over the course of 20 years. Walker’s critically acclaimed novel looks at the hardships and abuses these women had to endure and the beauty and redemptive power of their friendships. The Color Purple has faced multiple challenges and bans over the years due to profanity, drug abuse, sexual content and depictions of rape and incest. As recently as 2017, the novel was banned from all Texas State Prisons. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey, the 1985 film adaptation was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. You can check out the DVD using your library card today.

Book cover for The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give
Thomas, Angie

16-year-old Starr Carter lives a double life—as one of the only African American students at her elite prep school and as a resident of Garden Heights, a poor African American neighborhood. But after she sees her friend murdered during what should have been a routine traffic stop, Starr’s two worlds collide. As she deals with the trauma of losing her friend, she must also come to terms with the political realities of his death at the hands of a white police officer. Angie Thomas’ award-winning novel The Hate U Give has been challenged and banned in several libraries for explicit language and supposedly engendering a negative view of the police. It was one of the top ten most challenged books of 2020 according to the American Library Association. It was adapted to film in 2017 and featured Amanda Stenberg, KJ Apa, Common and Anthony Mackie. The DVD is available to check out with your library card today. 

Book cover for Lolita
Nabokov, Vladimir

After moving into the house of widow Charlotte Haze, middle-aged literature professor Humbert Humbert falls into a helpless and dangerous obsession with her twelve year old daughter Dolores. What follows is the disturbing and tragic tale of one man’s determination to fulfill his desire and the devastating consequences of his passion. Nabokov’s infamous novel Lolita has faced challenges since publication. It was banned in numerous countries and has been repeatedly challenged due to its depiction of pedophilia and rape. Lolita has been adapted to film twice since publication. Though the 1997 adaptation, starring Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain, is considered to be much more faithful to the novel, the 1962 Stanley Kubrick adaptation was a huge box office success and has remained popular throughout the years.

Book cover for Of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men
Steinbeck, John

In Depression-era California, two migrant workers travel around the state seeking work and trying to get by. Lennie and George have a dream of one day owning their own farm. But for now, they travel to where they can find work hoping to keep Lennie, strong but developmentally disabled, out of trouble. But trouble starts right away at their newest farm, when the owner’s son takes a dislike to Lennie. John Steinbeck’s critically acclaimed book Of Mice and Men is one of the most challenged books of all time and was on the American Library Association’s list of the 2020 Ten Most Challenged Books of the year. It has been challenged and banned for profanity, negative depictions of women, minorities and the developmentally disabled, as well as promoting euthanasia.

The 1939 film adaptation starred Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr and was nominated for four Academy Awards. 

Book cover for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Kesey, Ken

Randle Patrick McMurphy, assigned to a mental hospital after charges of battery, proceeds to instigate rebellion amongst the patients who live under the iron rule of Nurse Ratched. Drugged and brow-beaten into quiet submission, the other patients have long since given up on the idea of change. But McMurphy refuses to be bullied and he and Ratched engage in a power struggle that can only end in tragedy for them both. Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was directly inspired by Kesey’s time working as a night shift orderly at a mental institution in the 1950’s. This critically acclaimed novel has been considered controversial since publication and is one of the most banned and challenged novels in America. In 1978 a teacher in Idaho was fired and the book banned when it was assigned as class reading. In 2000, parents in California objected to it being taught and referred to the novel as “garbage.” It has been accused of being pornographic, glorifying criminal activities and depicting sexual situations.

The 1975 film adaptation starring Jack Nicholson, won all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay) and is considered one of the best films of all time. 

Book cover for The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Chbosky, Stephen

After the suicide of his best friend and the death of his favorite aunt, 15-year-old Charlie struggles during his freshman year in high school. To cope, he begins to write letters to an anonymous friend, laying out his troubles. When his English teacher introduces him to two seniors who take a genuine interest in him, Charlie begins to venture outside of his comfort zone and discover the world around him. Stephen Chbosky’s best-selling novel looks at the often painful transition from adolescence to adulthood. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been banned or challenged over a dozen times for profanity, explicit sexual content, suicide, as well as depictions of and glorification of drug use.

The 2012 film adaptation starring Emma Watson and Ezra Miller was directed and adapted by the author.

Book cover for Oil
Sinclair, Upton

Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil looks at the oil boom through the eyes of Bunny Ross, the son of an oil tycoon. As he shadows his father, Bunny learns the ins and outs of the oil industry and the manipulative and underhanded schemes that have made his father rich. The more Bunny learns, the more he is drawn toward social activism and away from his father. Sinclair’s political satire was burned by the Nazis as socialist propaganda and banned in Boston for sexually explicit scenes. The controversy around the Boston banning helped to make the novel a bestseller.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 film There Will Be Blood, loosely based on Sinclair’s classic novel, starred Daniel Day-Lewis and was nominated for eight Academy Awards.