Fiction Featuring Activists List
Welcome to the Activist Explorer Fiction Featuring Activists List!
This list is a compilation of works of fiction–novels, movies, TV shows, narrative games–centering activists, social justice movements, and/or organized resistance to oppression.
The list does not judge or review items included. Find reviews in my newsletter, Activist Explorer, and articles about Fiction Featuring Activists in the Activist Explorer Blog here on this site. Scroll down to find forms for proposing works for the list, and for submitting your own reviews.
Be sure to subscribe to see updates to the list as well as reviews. And to propose works of FFA you consider “Best”and “Most in Need of Improvement.”
FFA List Categories
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Novels Featuring Activists
The Activist’s Daughter - Ellyn Bache (1997)
In rebellion against her unconventional mother’s passionate involvement in the struggle for racial equality, 17-year-old Beryl Rosinsky flees Washington and enrolls at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1963.
Here, in the heart of the segregated South, Beryl struggles to blend in and conform to the paradoxes of her environment, with the deceptively sweet conventions of Southern life clashing against the harsh realities of racism and sexism entrenched all around her. Beryl must grapple with the realities of bigotry and come to terms with her family’s activist roots.
Adamson's 1969 - Nicole Burton (2018)
Young Adamson Henry finds himself stranded in America for the final semester of his high school life. As an Englishman, Adamson must learn to navigate the strangeness of the American landscape as an outsider. Over the course of his surprising semester abroad, Adamson must learn to juggle the complexities of dating, college, antiwar protests, a cross-country adventure from New England to the West Coast, and Woodstock–all while avoiding the draft.
Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver (1990)
This novel features activism in the Southwestern United States and Nicaragua. Protagonist Codi Homer’s sister Hallie moves to Nicaragua in order to participate in the Sandinista Revolution, engaging with Nicaraguans in sustainable farming, as the country is under deadly siege by US-backed “Contras.” Meanwhile, Codi returns to her small hometown and becomes involved in their fight against a mining company, which is polluting the river water and destroying the orchards that constitute their main livelihood. This novel portrays compelling points of comparison and contrast between what activism looks like across countries.
The Cafe on Dream Street - Adriane Brown (2020)
During the 1980s, a U.S. backed war is raging between El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the right-wing government. A teenager is sent to the United States in order to escape the death squads. Twenty years later, he finds himself the target of an anti-immigrant campaign in the New York suburb in which he has settled, and once again must fight for his livelihood and the survival of his family.
Cazzarola: Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy - Norman Nawrocki (2013)
Cazzarola! spans 130 years in the life of the Discordias, a fictionalized family of Italian anarchists.
This novel details the family’s heroic, multigenerational resistance to fascism in Italy and their ongoing involvement in the anarchist movement. With the Discordia family’s legacy of activism covering struggles ranging from early 20th century factory strikes and making attempts on Mussolini’s life to confronting the rise of neofascism across Europe during the early 2010s. Against the backdrop of multigenerational traumas, readers are met with the story of Antonio and Cinko, who must deal with the constant force of anti-Romani discrimination in their cross-cultural relationship.
The Cold Millions - Jess Walter (2020)
In early twentieth century Spokane, Washington, the city’s corrupt police, arrest five hundred members of the Industrial Workers of the World (“Wobblies”) as they fight for “one big union” for all workers, regardless of gender or race. Gig Dolan, his younger brother, Rye, and real-life activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a fierce opponent of exploitation and male domination in society and in her own union, are at the center of this empathetic, humanizing fictional portrayal of a real-life activist.
The Dandelion Insurrection: Love and Revolution - Rivera Sun (2013)
Under a gathering storm of tyranny, Zadie Byrd Gray whirls into the life of Charlie Rider and asks him to become the voice of the Dandelion Insurrection. With the rallying cry of liberty, protagonists Zadie and Charlie fly across America, leaving a wake of revolution in their path, and advocate for making change through nonviolent action. This novel is the first of the Dandelion Trilogy, the second of which is The Roots of Resistance and the third is Winds of Change.
Eat The Document - Dana Spiotta (2006)
In a narrative about passion, idealism, and sacrifice, Eat the Document portrays the life and struggles of underground New Left activists in the 1970s and their successors a generation later in the 1990s. Across the generations of activists captured in this novel, commentaries on the similarities and differences of the ever-changing goals of activism are called forth alongside questions pertaining to how the plans for a better world can be achieved.
Girl Meets Boy - Ali Smith (2007)
A modern-day reinterpretation of Ovid‘s myth of Iphis, Girl Meets Boy concerns two sisters, Anthea and Imogen (Midge) living in Inverness. Both sisters work in the marketing department of a large company producing bottled water when Anthea falls in love with Robin, a genderqueer environmental activist.
The Great Believers - Rebecca Makkai (2018)
The Great Believers follows a group of close friends in the 1980s, all affected by the AIDS crisis in different ways. Among the crew is a lawyer by the name of Asher Glass, who dedicates his life to gay rights activism and funding for AIDS research. Throughout the novel, he and his peers participate in marches and create zines to inform and advocate for Chicago’s gay community.
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (1985)
The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Set in the Republic of Gilead, this near-future New England totalitarian state serves as a replacement state for the overthrown United States government, with its citizens bound by the hyper-patriarchal, oppressive rules of this strange new world.
Though not the primary focus of the novel, The Handmaid’s Tale also portrays a strong, secret resistance against the fascist government, which harshly punishes anyone who speaks out against it. Resisters struggle to dismantle the system and help Offred and others escape the dangerous realities of Gilead.
The Hanging on Union Square - H. T. Tsiang (1935)
In Depression-era New York, Mr. Nut is an oblivious American everyman who wants to get rich. Over the course of a single night, he meets a cast of strange characters: disgruntled workers at a Communist cafeteria, lecherous old men, sexually exploited women, and pesky authors–all of whom eventually convince him to cast off his bourgeois aspirations in order to become a radical activist.
In this memorable novel, Tsiang effectively takes readers–along with the bewildered protagonist–on a zany odyssey from complacency to revolutionary.
In the Time of the Butterflies - Julia Álvarez (1994)
This story is set in the Dominican Republic and portrays the struggle against the brutal US-backed Trujillo dictatorship. The Mirabel sisters, “las Mariposas,” were real figures in that struggle. Through each of their eyes, the novel captures the atmosphere of that time and the ways in which people battled oppression and worked to overthrow the dictatorship, which happened a few months after the murders of three of the sisters at the hands of the regime.
Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human costs of political oppression.
The Jungle - Upton Sinclair (1905)
Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in order to portray the harsh conditions and exploited lives of immigrants in the United States in Chicago and similar industrialized cities, more specifically with respect to the horrors of working in the meatpacking industry.
The release of the novel itself was an act of activism; its descriptions of the lack of sanitation and mistreatment of workers in the meatpacking industry shocked the nation and called for increased regulation on both fronts.
We include the book on the FFA List because strikes and unions are central to the novel’s plot.
The Lenny Moss Mystery Series - Timothy Sheard (2019)
This entry to the Lenny Moss Mystery novels features a custodian in a large urban hospital who is shop steward of the hospital union. Lenny and other union members fight for workers’ rights as they confront murders and other misdeeds that plague the hospital. This particular story centers on the outbreak of a virulent, highly infectious strain of Zika virus, which leaves hospitals short of N95 masks and isolation gowns.
In light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, this read serves as a familiar look into the intricacies and struggles of fighting for public health and safety.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness - Arundhati Roy (2017)
This novel by acclaimed Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy is a sprawling journey through India across place, time, and caste/class, touching on the struggles of various oppressed peoples of that country, notably the ongoing conflict in Kashmir.
The Monkey Wrench Gang - Edward Abbey (1975)
The Monkey Wrench Gang is a work of comic fiction denouncing destructive industrial development along the Colorado River, where a small group of folks, including a Vietnam veteran, set out to sabotage strip-mining, road- and dam-building machines to protest their threat to the environment.
The Neighbors - Ahmad Mahmoud (1974)
In the early 1950s, Khaled, a young man from a rundown neighborhood in Ahvaz, in southern Iran, becomes involved with a group of activists working to unify the Iranian people against British colonialism, and to support the nationalization of Iran’s oil, landing Khaled in prison.
This coming-of-age-story ends with the CIA/MI6-orchestrated coup that overthrew progressive Prime Minister Moseddegh and insured control of the US and Britain over Iran’s oil for decades.
My Revolutions - Hari Kunzru (2007)
The average family man Michael Frame is not who he says he is, and is not who he has been for the past two decades. He’s actually Chris Carver, a fugitive from the law and ex-member of one of the most prominent revolutionary groups of 1960s and 70s London. He’s managed to keep his former identity a secret and forget about this tumultuous part of his existence, until two chance encounters force him to face his past.
Octavia’s Brood - Edited by Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha (2015)
Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown have brought 20 short stories together in this anthology to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change.
These tales from authors of color span genres – sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism – but all are united by an attempt to inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try on new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around us, and all the selves and worlds that could be.
Parable of the Sower - Octavia E. Butler (1993)
This novel centers on the dystopian journey of forging a new society in the face of climate catastrophe and social desintegration, led by Lauren Olamina, who realizes her vision of a starting a new faith and peaceful community, Earthseed, amidst the chaos.
Parable of the Talents - Octavia E. Butler (1998)
In this classic that is also very timely, the fledgling Earthseed community provides refuge for outcasts facing persecution after the election of an ultra-conservative president who vows to “make America great again.” In an increasingly divided and dangerous nation, Lauren’s community is targeted by the right-wing, racist president’s reign of terror, and must resist persecution and oppression, to bring to life an alternative vision.
Rainwood House Sings - Juliana Barnet w/Sophie Barnet-Higgins (2013)
Good-natured neighborhood activist Demetrius, accused of cop-shooting, takes refuge—incognito—in Rainwood House, the tumbledown, mildly haunted Maryland home of groundskeeper Marlie Mendíval and her granddaughter Samantha. With organizing, humor and solidarity, the characters battle gentrification, racial profiling, sexual harassment, eviction and entropy, starting a racial justice history museum, a friendship club, and a modern-day Underground Railroad stop.
Rivington Street - Meredith Tax (1982)
A historical saga of four Jewish women on New York’s Lower East Side in the early 20th Century. Tax takes readers from the horrors of the pogroms in Russia to organizing the International Ladies Garment Union following the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, delving into the lives of women workers, socialists, and upper-crust women who aided them in their struggles.
Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail! Stories of Crime, Love, and Rebellion - Edited by Gary Phillips and Andrea Gibbons (2011)
This collection of short stories revolves around riots, revolts, and revolution.
These original and once out-of-print stories capture various ways people rise up to challenge the status quo and change relationships of power.
The Sisters: A Fable of Globalization - Timothy Ryan (2011)
This is a story of twin sisters and their journey from hard-scrabble adolescence to tumultuous adulthood in the chaotic and turbulent times of 1990s Indonesia. It’s a chronicle of culture clash and revolution. Tintin and Tutit, Indonesian garment workers; Rod Price, a quality control/buyer for an American sportswear company; and Jim Bridges and Charley Peterson, American labor organizers all intersect in critical and surprising ways that shape each of their destinies.
Them - Nathan McCall (2007)
Them tells the story of Barlowe Reed, a single, forty-something African American who attempts to buy the rundown house he rents in an historic Black neighborhood. Once a center of the Civil Rights Movement, the neighborhood becomes enveloped in conflict around race and gentrification. The novel gives an up-close picture of relationships among neighbors as racial justice principles clash with perceived economic interests.
MOVIES FEATURING ACTIVISTS
The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
This pioneering documentary-style Italian-Algerian historical drama portrays the Algerian struggle for independence from their French colonizers. It shows the development of the popular force FLN, its fight with and defeat at the hands of the French forces, and its eventual victory in 1962. The film is based on real events and people, and uses mostly non-professional actors, making for a unique cinematic experience which blends the aesthetics of everyday people with some lines added in post-production by voice actors.
Cesar Chavez (2014)
Directed by Diego Luna
This film is a 2014 Mexican-American biographical drama produced and directed by Diego Luna. Centered on the life of American labor leader Cesar Chavez, who co-founded the United Farm Workers, this film follows Cesar Chavez’s efforts to organize 50,000 farm workers in California, who suffered from terrible working conditions across the state’s agricultural centers.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Erin Brockovich is an American biographical which dramatizes the true story of the titular environmental activist/consumer advocate, Erin Brockovich, portrayed by Academy Award winning actress Julia Roberts. The main conflict of the film surrounds the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) and its central role in the Hinkley groundwater contamination incident which plagued the town of Hinkley, CA from 1952–1966.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Directed by Shaka King
This six-time Academy Award-nominated film portrays the inner struggles of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party during the late 1960s. William “Bill” O’Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield, operates as an informant for the FBI’s crackdown on the Black Panther Party and the effort to take down the chairman of the Illinois chapter, none other than young Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). As a rising “Black Messiah” figure in the BPP, Fred Hampton faces constant harassment from the FBI and must come to terms with Bill O’Neal’s duplicitous role as a new associate of the Black Panther Party.
Little Pink House (2017)
Directed by Courtney Moorehead Balaker
Based on a true story of an unsuccessful battle to keep corrupt town officials from misusing the power of eminent domain, Susette Kelo, a nurse, emerges as the reluctant leader of her working-class neighbors in their struggle to save their homes from political and corporate interests bent on seizing the land and handing it over to the Pfizer Corporation.
Directed by John Sayles
Directed by John Sayles, the film dramatizes the events of the Battle of Matewan, a coal miners’ strike in 1920 in Matewan, a small town in the hills of West Virginia. Focusing on an organizer with the United Mine workers, the film shows the brutality of the mining company and the complexities of multi-racial organizing.
The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)
Directed by Robert Redford
This Robert Redford film based on the book by John Nichols tells the story of the 500 residents of the agricultural community of Milagro in the mountains of northern New Mexico, who fight back when politicians and business interests make a backroom deal to usurp the town’s water in order to pave the way for a land buy-out. Farmer Joe Mondragón “steals” water to plant beans.
An escalation of events follows, leading to a final showdown between law enforcement and the citizens of Milagro.
Les Misérables (2019)
Directed by Ladj Ly
Director Ladj Ly’s feature debut “Les Misérables,” inspired by the immigrant uprising in Paris of 2005, is based on the Victor Hugo 1862 novel of the same name. The film depicts the struggles of poor citizens, especially teenagers of sub-Saharan African or Maghrebi ethnicities, drawing parallels with Victor Hugo’s more well known work, which also depicts a popular uprising, thus stressing the continuity in the fate of the poor in Montfermeil.
i cento passi [One Hundred Steps] (2000)
Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana
In I cento passi (English: One Hundred Steps or The Hundred Steps), set in the late seventies, Peppino, a young left-wing activist, goes against the status quo and against his family and community, who are complicit in the Mafia’s activities. He uses his platform, a small local radio station, humor, and his own privilege to draw attention to the issues that organized crime and corruption create in Sicily, organizing his own resistance.
Radium Girls (2018)
Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher
During the Roaring Twenties, teen sisters Bessie and Jo dream of Hollywood and Egyptian pyramids while they paint glow-in-the-dark watch dials at the American Radium factory in New Jersey. Jo becomes mysteriously ill, and Bessie joins her communist, activist friends to seek the truth behind the company doctor’s contemptuous dismissal of her sister’s and other “radium girls'” suffering, convincing her co-workers to file a lawsuit against American Radium.
The 2018 drama is based on a real case that eventually had a lasting impact on workplace health and safety, and on the study of radioactivity.
Salt of the Earth (1954)
Directed by Herbert J. Biberman
Salt of the Earth is a 1954 American drama film whose creators were ostracized for alleged communist politics.
An early feminist movie, its plot centers on a long and difficult strike, based on the real 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in Grant County, New Mexico. The film shows the miners’ wives taking leadership, with ensuing internal struggle, as it portrays the miners, company, and police during the strike. In neorealist style, the producers and director used actual miners and their families as actors in the film.
Directed by Mike Nichols
Silkwood is an American biographical drama film directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep, Cher, and Kurt Russell. The screenplay by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen was inspired by the life of Karen Silkwood. Silkwood was a nuclear whistleblower and a labor union activist who died in a suspicious car collision while investigating alleged wrongdoing at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant where she worked.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Directed by Boots Riley
Sorry to Bother You is an American black comedy-drama film written and directed by Boots Riley. The film follows a young black telemarketer who adopts a white accent to succeed at his job. Swept into a corporate conspiracy, he must choose between profit and joining his activist friends to organize the workers at the firm.
The Spook who Sat by the Door (1973)
Directed by Ivan Dixon
A former CIA agent takes advantage of his training to create a revolutionary army echoing the Black Panther Party. This radical film, based on a novel by Sam Greenlee, was a mainstream success when released in 1973, then was abruptly taken out of distribution for reasons which are still not clarified.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
Directed by Aaron Sorkin
The Trial of the Chicago 7 shows the trial of the people (originally eight, including Black Panther Bobby Seale) who were charged with inciting riot during the 1968 Democratic Convention, when thousands of people came to Chicago to protest the Vietnam War and were violently attacked by the police. The movie depicts the obvious bias of Judge Julius Hoffman against the defendants, as well as their diverse outlook. It also shows the clear racism in the treatment of the only Black defendant, Bobby Seale, who was subsequently separated from the others although he is there for most of the movie.
TV SHOWS FEATURING ACTIVISTS
Activists are even more rare in television than in other fiction. For this reason we include series with a single activist character, a single or a few episodes focusing on what might be considered activism, or, in a few cases, a subplot revolving around activism. Dear White People is one of the very few which has an activist as its central character.
We welcome any additions to the FFA List, but especially to this section on TV programs, because the lack of full and fair portrayal of activists–or virtually any portrayal–is so stark in this medium watched by so many people in the US and around the world.
Anne with an E (2017-2019)
Created by Moira Walley Beckett
In the late 1890s, Anne is mistakenly sent to live with aging siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert on Prince Edward Island. Anne, who proves to be uniquely spirited, imaginative and smart, transforms the lives of Marilla, Matthew, and everyone else in their small town.
Fair-minded but not generally engaged in activism, in a couple of episodes in Season 3 (the last season), Anne organizes her schoolmates to defy an attack on their free speech. Then she attempts to help a First Nation friend defy the culture-killing boarding school where the friend is enrolled.
Dear White People (2017-2021)
Created by Justin Simien
Based on the acclaimed film of the same name, this Netflix-original series follows a group of students of color at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college.
Samantha White, a media student at Winchester University and lead activist of the campus Black Student Union, clashes with school authorities and sometimes with BSU classmates as she speaks out on her radio show, documents with her camera, and seeks to organize fellow students against injustice at the university and beyond.
One Day at a Time (2017-2020)
Created by Gloria Calderon Kellet & Mike Royce
This comedy-drama follows Penelope, a newly single Army veteran, and her Cuban-American family, as they navigate the ups and downs of life. It is not an activist show–in fact the grandmother, played by famed Puerto Rican actor Rita Moreno, is an adamantly anti-Castro Cuban. However, her granddaughter Elena is a budding activist, often made fun of in her family.
When Elena comes out as lesbian to her family the news isn’t taken well, but she perseveres, finds a partner who shares her ideas, and forms a Gay-Straight Alliance at her high school.
Orange is the New Black (2013-2019)
Created by Jenji Kohan
Like the show’s main character, Piper Chapman, Sister Jane Ingalls is incarcerated in Litchfield Women’s Prison. Unlike Piper, however, she is imprisoned for activism–tying herself to a flagpole in protest at a nuclear test site. Sister Jane, a lifelong pacifist since protesting the Vietnam War in the 70s, was excommunicated from the Church for her activism and for a book she wrote called Nun Shall Pass, which detailed her views of the Church, religion and activism.
At the end of Season 4 the women stage a demonstration against Piscatella, captain of the guards, wanting him to resign. In the course of this demonstration, a guard kills a prisoner by kneeling on her and suffocating her, which leads to an uprising in the prison.
Peaky Blinders (2013--)
Created by Steven Knight
Ada Thorne, sister of Tommy Shelby, head of a notorious gang in 1919 Birmingham, England, marries Freddie Thorne, a Communist, and becomes involved in his fight against the British Government, much to Tommy and her family’s chagrin. She and Freddie work together but soon he dies mysteriously, and Ada believes he was killed for his involvement in the communist movement. She continues with her activism until threatened by the law. With her own and her child’s life in danger because of her and Freddie’s activism she moves back home. While she officially renounces her beliefs, she names their child Karl, after Karl Marx.
Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals
This show revolves around the ballroom counter culture of the 80’s and 90’s, where Black trans queer individuals could express themselves in an environment that was largely free from harassment. The character Pray Tell joins ACT UP and organizes family and friends to fight the Reagan administration’s criminal negligence concerning the AIDS crisis.
Other instances of activism on this show include the staging of an anti-eviction protest that the principal characters engage in, which morphs into a community-wide protest against gentrification and transphobia. Solidarity proves to be a central theme.
Created by Justin Spitzer
Superstore is a sitcom that centers on the daily affairs of “Cloud 9 Superstore” a fictionalized big-box store located in St. Louis, Missouri. The show maintains a charming, comedic atmosphere while wrestling with a wide array of issues from worker rights to immigration, to intersections of classism and realities of working as an member of the exploited “essential” professions.
Featuring Activists and Organizing
As with the other categories, Protect Our Activists’ Children’s Fiction Featuring Activists List is not a comprehensive list of social justice literature but has a sharper focus within that category on fiction where characters take collective action for social change.
We include titles for young people which may not explicitly be about activists (with a few exceptions, like the story of Betty Shabazz’s childhood) but which portray in positive, relatable ways characters organizing together to challenge injustice–even in unlikely places.
Because of Protect Our Activists’ general emphasis on the portrayal of everyday activists, whose lives and works should be as humanized and familiar as those of other pursuits found in children’s literature–farmers, cooks, and, yes, police–other than Betty Shabazz we don’t include the many fictionalized versions of activist icons which make up the bulk of fiction featuring activists for children. Other lists, including those noted at the end of this FFA List, include many such works.
Betty Before X - Ilyasah Shabazz & Renée Watson (2018)
In this fictionalized account of the childhood of Betty Shabazz, Betty finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. The singing, preaching, and speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in Betty’s community to stand up for their rights, and inspire the girl who became American civil rights icon Dr. Betty Shabazz.
Chicken Run (2000)
Directed by Peter Lord & Nick Park
This children’s movie explores the world of oppressed chickens facing certain death at a chicken farm where they are held. Ginger the chicken enlists the help of Rocky the ”flying” rooster and leads a rebellion against the evil Mr. and Ms. Tweedy. They organize the chickens to destroy the chicken pie-making machine and make a great escape.
Click, Clack, Moo Cows that Type - Doreen Cronin, Betsy Lewin (2000)
These farm animals are activists.
Click, Clack, Moo tells the story of Farmer Brown’s cows, who find an old typewriter in the barn and proceed to write letters to Farmer Brown, making various demands and then going on strike when they aren’t met.
Circle of Fire - Evelyn Coleman (2001)
Mendy Thompson, a 12-year-old-girl in 1958 Monteagle, Tennessee, discovers intruders in her forest clearing and learns they are members of the KKK plotting to bomb Highlander School during a speech by Mendy’s hero, Eleanor Roosevelt. Mendy must find a way to warn officials of the plan.
We include this middle grade novel because of Mendy’s courageous stand against the Klan, and because it includes a rare mention of the Highlander Center, so influential in organizing and consciousness-raising during the Civil Rights Movement and today.
Julie and the Eagles - Megan McDonald (2007)
Julie and her best friend, Ivy, find a baby owl in Golden Gate Park–and it needs help. At a wildlife rescue center, Julie meets Shasta and Sierra, two bald eagles that will be caged for life unless money is raised to release them back into the wild. For Earth Day, Julie thinks of a unique way to tell the public of the eagles plight. The “Looking Back” section explores the beginning of the environmental movement, when this American Girl series story set in 1974 takes place.
Saving Annie's Mountain - Lillie Gill-Newton, Samantha Stewart, Maryam Keeley, and Nicholas Mokhiber (2015)
Four West Virginia children studying the ravages of coal mining and mountain-top removal and the history of miners strikes join marchers from around the country. In a rally to save the titular mountain, the children meet an old woman named Annie, who tells of being a miner’s daughter and fighting throughout her life to save the mountain from destruction.
Written by a group of West Virginia children from Wind Dance Farm School.
Theodore Boone: The Activist - John Grisham (2013)
As the city of Strattenburg sits divided over a hot political and environmental issue, young Theodore Boone finds himself right in the thick of it. The county commission is fighting hard to change the landscape of the town, and Theo is strongly opposed to the plans. But when he uncovers corruption beneath the surface, no one—not even Theo—is prepared for the risks at stake.
Zombie Elementary - The Neighborhood Novelists of Thomas Stone Elementary School and Juliana Barnet (2015)
Written and illustrated by thirty third graders in the Neighborhood Novelists program, with Juliana Barnet, in Zombie Elementary, 3rd grader Samantha befriends Jake the zombie, who comes to school to learn. Unfortunately, Jake’s twin brother zombie James tags along, and he wants to take shortcuts and get smart by eating people’s brains.
Samantha, Jake and their friends–zombie and human–tackle their mutual fears and prejudices, make creative use of gummy worms, and organize to stop James and the other rapidly multiplying brain-eating zombies from overrunning the school.
Featuring Activists and Organizing
Many narrative games focus on violence and war, turning the players into bloodthirsty combatants and sociopaths. We are looking for games with stories that put the players into the world of social justice struggles and organizing. These types of games are out there, but the market is saturated with first-person shooters and RPG fantasy games, and activist themes tend to be often forgotten or pushed to the side.
Choose-your-own-adventure games like 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, lead the player through events of the revolution, letting them make decisions that the real activists at that time would have had to make. Other games we have found, made for younger audiences, depict community organizing and give young gamers a chance to play at social change from their laptops or game consoles. Some of these can be found at Games for Change.
In truth, to date we have found very few examples of narrative games featuring activists, activism or social movements, but we feel they would be a great medium for immersing people first-hand into activist stories, and we hope game-designers and activists–and activist game-designers!–can work together to create such games.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday (2016)
Developed and Published by iNK Stories
Reza Shirazi, an aspiring photojournalist, returns to Iran amidst the Iranian Revolution. As he becomes more involved in the events of the Revolution, Reza is forced to make decisions in order to survive. Players make timed responses throughout the game, determining the outcome of the plot. They are tasked with taking in-game photographs of their surroundings, and given historical background of the events.
Other Lists of Fiction Centering Activists
Other lists of fiction centering on activists: Fiction Featuring Activists is rare but not nonexistent. What FFA does exist doesn’t get much attention, but it does get some. Other lists of labor fiction, crime fiction and others centered on activists and activism include:
Have fun with fiction, but beware!
We’re so used to the marginalizing and stereotyping of activists we hardly notice it!
Keep your eyes open! Notice how–and if!–activists are portrayed in the stories we love…