A seminal sci-fi novel is coming to television.
Kindred, an adaptation of Octavia Butler's 1979 novel, will premiere on Hulu this fall. The story follows aspiring writer Dana (Mallori Johnson) as she is mysteriously pulled back and forth between 2016 and a 19th-century plantation. She will try to make sense of what is happening to her and uncover secrets about her family's past along the way.
From the outset, showrunner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a massive fan of the original text, and the writers wanted to approach Kindred as an expansion of the universe Octavia created. "The best adaptations don't try to replace the original or just do the original, but send you back to the original, so that's what our philosophy has been," Jacobs-Jenkins explains.
The adaptation's approach is to slow down and spend more time on specific points of the story instead of covering the entire book in its first season. Describing the first half of the book as having "a lot of different empty rooms," Jacobs-Jenkins says the show will explore certain characters and places further than the book did. Part of that comes from adapting a novel told in the first person for television, which opens up the storytelling possibilities. Jacobs-Jenkins hopes viewers familiar with the original text will recognize elements of it while also enjoying a more current approach. "It's been about 40 years since the book was released. It's about refreshing the themes and asking ourselves how they may have been challenged or expanded upon by the rich evolution of social thought since," he explains.
Tina Rowden/FX Mallori Johnson on 'Kindred'
Dana, played by newcomer Johnson, is in a moment of transition as she moves cross country to start a new life. "She's got an amazing amount of emotional range, depth, and intelligence," Jacobs-Jenkins says about the lead actress. "I was interested in someone who felt contemporary and also not like someone we'd ever seen before on television because the thing about Octavia Butler is she's interested in singular people who you don't expect to be the heroes."
One change from the original text? We'll meet Dana and Kevin's (Micah Stock) much earlier in their relationship. The show also allows for a deeper exploration of their relationship. "In this period, I think [Butler] was still quite coy, and the readership was considered coy," Jacobs-Jenkins says, "In the original book, sex is almost never alluded to. The marriage between Kevin and Dana actually feels quite chaste in a lot of ways."
As for Dana's larger journey, Jacobs-Jenkins says, "I think Octavia Butler was disturbed by people who felt morally superior to the past, and this is her way of building a world that asks how much better you are than this time period. The book and the show itself is asking, among many questions, what does it mean to take ownership of your life?"
FX's Kindred premieres this November on Hulu.