The field of adaptation studies has changed immeasurably since Literature/Film Quarterly was founded in 1973. Where the term “adaptation” used to be reserved for individual films based on single pre-existing literary texts, it now refers to any number of intertextual possibilities, intersections among texts and histories, cross-cultural forms of storytelling, and multi-media modes of representing the “same” stories. The concept “adaptation” has itself been adapted to refer to all manner of remakings, refashionings, reimaginings, reconceptualizations, revisionings, and reworkings. The concept is malleable enough that we can meaningfully use it to help us understand films that are not drawing from singular texts in the traditional sense.
Take the recent film Moonlight (2016), for example, a stunning creation that matters for its resonance with and against innumerable other artistic creations as well as being based on an unpublished play. The narrative of Moonlight is determined by the growth of its closeted African-American protagonist, and it honors his multidimensionality in ways that ultimately exceed labels. The film is divided into three parts that are titled for three of the names given to its main character: “Little,” “Chiron,” and “Black.” The names themselves reflect his being identified, and identifying himself, differently over time. The first part is titled for his childhood nickname, his physical smallness, and his disempowerment (“Little”). The second part is titled after his given name, showing how he takes what he is “given” within disturbing domestic and social circumstances and develops as an adolescent (“Chiron”). The title of the final part is about the protagonist’s adult identity as it exceeds the names others have chosen for him, underlining his power as well as his vulnerability, and also anticipating his possible rebirth into a life without shame (“Black”). The film is an extraordinary feat of directorial accomplishment in that the narrative thread is strong despite three different actors playing the “same” person. There is an authentic, almost mysterious sense of continuity achieved by Moonlight’s visual and aural motifs. The subtleties of performance cumulatively convey a character in the ceaseless process of becoming, adapting himself to change, growth, and renewal. Every scene is vivid but always creates the sense of what fades, moves on, changes aspect, and has to be re-seen. And, just as the story communicates the idea of a human being who ceaselessly changes, the film itself changed the tenor of the entire 2017 Academy Awards ceremony when it suddenly took the award for Best Picture. Moments before, the culminating award had been mistakenly given to La La Land (2016), and the sudden turnabout was a perfectly messy reflection of our times as America adapts to a newly turbulent political climate: the award for beautifully stylish nostalgia became an award for newly subversive bravery. This ending to the show forced me to re-understand the entire experience of it; I adapted myself to reconsider what is possible within American cinema. The success of Moonlight prompts us to revisit preconceptions about what a film must show or must be to have a wide impact on our mainstream culture—that it must be focused on white characters, for instance, or that the love story should at least revolve around straight people. The film is already an important contribution to cinematic history, which is itself a body of work being remade every year.
Literature/Film Quarterly was created more than 516 full moons ago. This journal is the living legacy of its late, great co-founders Jim Welsh and Tom Erskine, both of whom saw the value in adaptation studies long before film versions of literary sources had international respectability. They built the journal up from nothing until it had subscriptions in over 30 countries. They inspired a greater understanding of cinema as art, long before that was the norm. Thanks largely to their efforts, the study of adaptation is now a well-established part of cinema studies, and LFQ has its own long-standing history. But now is the time to adapt again, to remake the journal’s body into a newly accessible online presence. From today on, all our new contents will be freely accessible on this site, and our name will be a shortened version of the original—from Literature/Film Quarterly to LFQ. We are now accessible through the JSTOR Arts and Sciences database too, and thus accessible in over 9,000 institutions worldwide.
This inauragal issue of LFQ online is a remaking of our journal, and a call for new approaches to understanding the entire field of adaptation studies. We therefore devote the entirety of this issue to a roundtable of short essays by leading scholars in our field. Each of our contributors is responding to our question “what is the state of adaptation studies and/or what are the current possiblities within the field?” The issue provides us with an unprecendently rich range of approaches to the field as it now stands—from multi-disciplinary, multi-media, and multi-national points of view. Along with broadening our outreach, I see us continuing to broaden how we understand the concept of adaptation. Reflecting back on Moonlight, we will continue to explore “adaptation” as a concept with infinite applicablity—to refer not only to a film that clearly derives from a source text, but also to a film as it changes with the times, to the bodies and voices of characters within a film that change and reconstitute themselves, to the conversation between a film and the numerous texts it might indirectly reference, to a film that changes history by becoming a part of it, to the processes by which our pedagogical practice changes in relation to what a film does, to a film as it reflects or refracts new cultural climates, to a film as it helps us keep changing ourselves.
Like Chiron, our journal is remaking itself in order to survive the times, but to also become stronger. I have edited this journal for 13 years and it has changed me. My life has changed around it, and I am in turn making it a new object. You can’t hold our new journal in your hand, but I hope all of you enjoy the transformation.