First published in 1979, sci-fi author Octavia Butler‘s bestselling novel Kindred defies conventional genres, incorporating classic time-travel tropes, Antebellum South slave narratives, and historical fiction. Butler herself described it as “a kind of grim fantasy.” More than 40 years later, Kindred is now an eight-episode TV miniseries, coming to Hulu next month, and we now have our first look via a 90-second teaser.
(Spoilers for the 1979 novel below.)
Butler’s novel is told from the first-person perspective of a young Black writer named Dana, who moves to Los Angeles with her husband Kevin in 1976. On her 26th birthday, Dana suddenly becomes dizzy, and the walls of their LA home fade away. She finds herself at the edge of a wood near a river and promptly rescues a young, red-haired boy named Rufus Weylin. Another dizzy spell quickly brings her back to her present, but the attacks keep coming, and soon Dana is being transported back and forth on a regular basis, for varying lengths of time. (Time passes more swiftly in the past, further complicating matters.) She quickly learns there are certain compromises she must make, and cruelties she must endure, in order to navigate the Antebellum South. Eventually Kevin finds himself transported back to the same time period, too, and must learn to navigate the Antebellum South as a white man.
While no cause or mechanism is ever offered for Dana’s time travel, we eventually learn that there is a historical connection: young Rufus is actually Dana’s ancestor. Her trips back in time initially occur whenever the accident-prone boy needs rescuing—and, understandably invested in preserving her family lineage and future existence, Dana repeatedly saves his life. But as Rufus grows up, things become more complicated. He succeeds his father as master of the plantation and ultimately rapes his childhood friend Alice (born free but later sold into slavery as punishment) and forces her to become his concubine. One of their children is Dana’s ancestor, Hagar.
Kindred sold over 1 million copies after it was published; it’s a complicated novel with multiple themes and arguably Butler’s most influential and acclaimed work. There was a 2017 graphic novel adaptation, but for some reason it was never adapted for film or television—until now. FX ordered a pilot for the miniseries last July and picked Kindred up for a full series in January. Per the official logline: “As Dana, a young Black woman and aspiring writer, begins to settle in her new home, she finds herself being pulled back and forth in time, emerging at a nineteenth-century plantation and confronting secrets she never knew ran through her blood.”
Newcomer Mallori Johnson (We Crashed) stars as Dana, with Micah Stock (Deke Slayton in The Right Stuff series) as Kevin. Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) plays Thomas Weylin; Gayle Rankin (Sheila the She-Wolf in Glow) plays his wife, Margaret Weylin; and David Alexander Kaplan (“12” in Stranger Things S4) plays the young Rufus. It looks like FX/Hulu is sticking with late 1970s Los Angeles for Dana and Kevin’s “present-day” existence.
I re-read Kindred every few years or so, and I’m generally pretty open to taking a few creative liberties when adapting novels for TV. But frankly, I’m not particularly thrilled by this teaser, which makes the series look like straight-up time-travel horror, as if they were making American Horror Story: Antebellum. Granted, there are horrifying elements in Butler’s novel (although she deliberately toned down the gruesome violence contained in the historical records she studied to attract more readers). But it’s not a horror novel by any stretch of the imagination, so it’s… an interesting approach for the first teaser.
That said, I have to trust that the series will be well done and worthwhile, given that the showrunner is award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (a producer on Watchmen and Outer Range), working with fellow producers Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler), Joe Weisberg (The Americans), and Joel Fields (Fosse/Verdon). Perhaps the full-length trailer, when it drops, will give us a better sense of the true tone and scope of the series.
All eight episodes of Kindred begin streaming on Hulu on December 13. We’ll be watching.
Listing image by YouTube/FX