Banned books in ‘Beautiful Creatures’

“We have twelve churches and one library, with more banned books than books to read.”

This post is coming out a little earlier than I had originally planned, as I had to shuffle around some upcoming posts for two exciting reasons: 1) there’s an extra-special bonus post coming out at the beginning of next week, so be on the lookout for that, and 2) I’m going to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at the local drive-in when it opens on Sept. 3rd and then do a “first impressions” post for my first post of September.

Reminder: I regularly write and publish two posts a month, on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month, plus the odd bonus post (including the one coming out early next week!). If you don’t want to miss a post, make sure you sign up for my email notification list on the right sidebar. Super easy!

Banned Books Week, Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 2021

I had originally planned this to go out next month in honor of the annual Banned Books Week, but I think it’s okay to post this a bit early, because this way, we can all save the date and think about this year’s theme, “Books Unite Us.” Be sure to check out what your local library is doing to celebrate Banned Books Week and the freedom to read. And please note: this is NOT a week to celebrate the act of banning books; rather, as the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) states:

Banned Books Week (September 26 – October 2, 2021) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

Banned Books Week Press Kit,” Office for Intellectual Freedom, ALA
Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020” video by Banned Books Week, Standard YouTube license

Banned book references in ‘Beautiful Creatures’

Earlier this year, I analyzed the 2013 movie Beautiful Creatures, which co-starred the incomparable Viola Davis as reel librarian Amarie “Amma” Treadeau. (For those who have read the original book source, this film adaptation combines the characters of Amma and Marian Ashcroft together.) The movie overall is not great, but Viola Davis shines as Amma, and it’s worth a view just to enjoy her portrayal. Representation and visibility matter, and we should all soak in this sensitive, grounded, multi-faceted portrayal of a Black woman librarian role. (Bonus, Amma’s cinematic style is AMAZING!)

Because that original analysis post of Beautiful Creatures was so lengthy and in-depth, I felt I needed to trim out the parts I had written about the banned books that are referenced in the movie. But I saved my notes — and screenshots! — to give them their due here, to help us commemorate the annual and upcoming Banned Books Week.

Setting the scene

At 2 minutes into the film, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) provides the beginning narration, describing the town and setting. Here’s his memorable summation of this Southern town:

We have twelve churches and one library, with more banned books than books to read.

And what book covers do we spy pinned on Ethan’s wall? A banned book, of course! So cheeky. He’s obviously read the classic book Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., originally published in 1969 — and a book that continues to get banned today.

A book cover of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s classic anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, on Ethan’s wall.

Bukowski’s books

In Ethan’s early conversations with Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), he notices that she is reading Charles Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense, a book of poetry published in 1986. At 11:49 minutes into the movie, Ethan has obtained a copy of the book, too, and he starts taking the book out and reading it in school in an attempt to impress Lena. (Side observation: There’s no call number on that book, so it didn’t come from the local library. How did he get a copy so quickly? I wouldn’t think that a bookstore in this town, one that has “more banned books than books to read” would have on-hand copies of Bukowski’s books, do you? Do you think the propmaster should have slapped a call number on that book spine, to subtly illustrate his close relationship with Amma, the town librarian? Discuss and please share your thoughts. 😉 )

Ethan’s summation of Bukowski’s work?

This man is a god.

Ethan tries to impress Lena by reading Charles Bukowski’s book of poetry, You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense

And Bukowski was no stranger to being banned. The year before You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense was published, Bukowski’s book of short stories, Tales of Ordinary Madness, was challenged and removed from a public library in The Netherlands. In response, Bukowski penned an epic letter, which you can read in full online here.

Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.

I am not dismayed that one of my books has been hunted down and dislodged from the shelves of a local library. In a sense, I am honored that I have written something that has awakened these from their non-ponderous depths.

Letter by Charles Bukowski, 22 July 1985

Banned book in the classroom

At 14:42 into Beautiful Creatures, Ethan’s English teacher asks them to take out their copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, the classic 1960 novel by Harper Lee, as it had been assigned for them to read over the summer.

Ethan’s ex-girlfriend, Emily (played by Zoey Deutch), immediately pushes back:

Emily: My mama says I really shouldn’t be reading this book. This is one of those banned books.

Teacher: Yes, well, I got permission from the school board to try it for a semester.

Emily: Well, I’m not reading anything that was banned from our church.

And… we come full circle back to Ethan’s description of the town again, as having “more banned books than books to read.”

Emily solidifies her top bitch status when she refuses to read To Kill a Mockingbird for English class

To Kill a Mockingbird also continues to get challenged and banned from libraries and schools today. In fact, To Kill a Mockingbird came in at #7 in the OIF’s list of Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020!

Books and ideas

Here’s a bit in the movie that I wanted to end on.

At 44 minutes into the film, Ethan is sharing with Lena about his mom:

My mama used to say, ‘Get out of this town as soon as you can. Go find out how other people live and think before you find a place that’s yours.’ And I’d say, ‘Mom, um, I’m 9. How do I do that?’ So that’s when she took me to the library. And she said, ‘Ethan, this is my church. This is where my family goes to celebrate what’s holy: Ideas.’

This quote doesn’t directly reference banned books; rather, it focuses on the power of books and the freedom to read. And that’s the message we should all be focusing on next month for Banned Books Week 2021, to celebrate the fact that “books unite us,” and that reading provides outlets for creativity, exploration, and ideas.

What’s your favorite banned book or movie? Please leave a comment and share.

Also, be sure to check out my past post about banned reel librarian movies!

Sources used

Author: Jennifer

Librarian, blogger, movie lover

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