October 23, 2018

Judy Blume Goes to Hollywood With Her Books

I blogged about author Judy Blume back in early June 2012 (catch my post HERE). At the time, she was still very interested in censorship which was a central focus of her early career. But movies and television shows of her work wasn't really on her radar.  Well, there was news in mid-October 2018 that Judy Blume is finally letting Hollywood have a crack at one of her most iconic works. That work is the book "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret". The prolific author (who has published 30 books), just turned 80 in February 2018, and has famously been opposed to screen adaptations of her works, with just two exceptions: the 1978 TV movie adaptation of "Forever", and the 2012 adaptation of "Tiger Eyes", both of which were, in the words of Vanity Fair journalist Yohana Desta "largely forgettable", which may explain her reluctance to try it again.

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As per reporting from Deadline , the author has given director Kelly Fremon Craig and producer James L. Brooks the green light to adapt "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" about a young girl navigating puberty and the pains of growing up into a movie. Fremon Craig will write and direct the adaptation; Brooks will produce under his Gracie Films banner.

This marks the first time Judy Blume has ever granted the movie rights to her novel. But back in August 2018, the author herself Tweeted that she had a change of heart, and that she was taking meetings in Los Angeles to see which of her books could potentially be made into films or TV series.
The initial winner of a movie deal was "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" although its possible others will be coming, too -- either in movie form, or television (or some combination). The book "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" was originally published back in 1970 as a young adult novel, but it meant much more to an entire generation of preadolescent girls looking for answers and a sense they weren't alone as childhood turned into a tumultuous something else. At that time, books were available for young people, while parents were getting divorced and mothers entered the workforce en masse, leaving many kids of that era alone. The subject matter might seem tame by today's standards, but it stood alone in its time, and there were even calls over the years for it to be banned from libraries. It is also among Time's list of the top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923.

The issues addressed in "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" were real problems girls of that era couldn't really discuss with anyone: when would they reach puberty and get their periods? Should they pad their bras, and what to do about the boys they were crushing on? Margaret is a sixth grader who moves from New York City to Farbrook, New Jersey (the character Peter Hatcher and his family from the book "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" also move to suburban Princeton, New Jersey from NYC in the sequel "Superfudge". Ms. Blume herself is from New Jersey, although she spent several years as a child living in Miami, Florida). Anyway, her character Margaret is raised by a religiously indifferent Christian mother and Jewish father, she prays to a God she imagines is watching over her. In addition to a search for faith, she is curious about upcoming changes in her own body and forms a secret club with four other girls where they discuss subjects like boys, bras, and periods.

Judy Blume, of course, wrote far more books than ones aimed exclusively at adolescent girls, even if those were among her bestsellers. As noted, her seminal book "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" spoke to young boys (about my age; I was in third grade when it was released) about the trials of living with a younger "baby" brother who sucks all of the attention and air out of a room because he's younger, cuter child proved that she could reach a range of children's ages with her works.

As far as the soon-to-be-made-into-a-movie "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret", over the years Judy Blume has offered a lot of comments (see her blog post for more) about how that particular book was updated to reflect how just months after the book was released, old sanitary belts women of that era used became obsolete when adhesive strip pads hit the market, and it was an editor in the UK who suggested that Margaret should trade in those belts and pads for the new, more friendly feminine products. Judy Blume herself never dreamed it was even possible to revise a book that had already been published to reflect changes in the market for feminine sanitary products.

She has gone on the record as saying that she does not want to see her characters age. She told NPR (see https://www.npr.org/2018/02/12/584561888/at-80-judy-blume-reflects-on-feminism-metoo-and-letting-margaret-grow-up for reference):

"I don't want to rewrite anything. My characters are who they are. For years, people have written and asked me to let Margaret go through menopause. And it's like, "Hey guys! Margaret is 12 and she is going to stay 12. That's who she is." No, I don't want to rewrite any of them."

That said, we CAN expect to see her timeless characters brought to life in movie format soon. However, I would say that Ms. Blume herself is likely applying the lessons she learned from her early experience, and now she's able to chose producers and people to produce her works (perhaps even having more of a say in casting, sets, etc.) that SHE wants to work with, which means the latest iteration of Judy Blume books-turned-films are likely to be somewhat different than her initial experiences.

While I won't necessarily be waiting for the release of "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret", I will wait until we see a "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" and "Superfudge" or one of the two later sequels (which I had outgrown by the time of their release; besides, instead of being about older brother Peter, they were about the younger brother Fudge) film or TV show made. Still, I wonder if now that I've had 40 more years of life behind me if my recollections and emotions with her books will be the same, or whether others will have similar experiences?  We shall find out soon enough!

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