Paton’s fictional works focus on South Africa and the injustice of apartheid. Paton exposes the social and economic evils of apartheid and urges that the system be eliminated. While Cry, the Beloved Country is devoted specifically to the plight of blacks in South Africa, Paton writes about the Afrikaners (descendants of the original Dutch settlers) in Too Late the Phalarope. His short stories in Tales from a Troubled Land, especially “Life for Life” and “Debbie Go Home,” examine the lives of the “colored” (mixed race) people of South Africa.
Cry, the Beloved Country was adapted for the stage under the title Lost in the Stars. The musical featured lyrics by Maxwell Anderson and music by Kurt Weill and opened on Broadway on October 30, 1949, to a long, successful run. An opera version of the play performed by the New York City Opera Company premiered during the 1950 spring season. The American Film Theatre produced a film version of the musical, also titled Lost in the Stars, in 1974. Directed by Daniel Mann, the movie’s greatest strength is Brock Peters’s powerful performance as Stephen Kumalo.
Cry, the Beloved Country was made into a critically successful British motion picture, filmed partly on location in South Africa and released in 1951. Paton served as consultant and writer. Directed by Zoltan Korda with cinematography by Robert Krasker, this screen version starred Canada Lee as Stephen Kumalo and Sidney Poitier as Msimangu. Charles Carson played the role of James Jarvis. Another adaptation, Felicia Komai’s Cry, the Beloved Country: A Verse Drama was first produced in the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, in February 1954.
Paton and Robert Yale Libatt adapted Too Late the Phalarope as a drama, staged in New York in 1956, and in 1965 Paton’s short story “Sponono” was also adapted for the New York stage with the help of Krishna Shah.