Octavia E. Butler’s work is finally coming to the screen for the very first time this year as FX and Hulu are bringing a television adaptation of Kindred to viewers. During this year’s New York Comic Con, the cast was on site to preview the show, discussing their characters, the show in general, and Butler’s work. Executive producer/writer/showrunner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Mallori Johnson (Dana), Micah Stock (Kevin), Gayle Rankin (Margaret Weylin), David Alexander Kaplan (Margaret’s son Rufus), Sheria Irving (Olivia), Austin Smith (Luke), and Sophina Brown (Sarah) were in attendance. Dr. Ayana Jamieson, founder of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network, moderated.
Kindred is based on Butler’s novel of the same name. It follows Dana, a young Black woman who is abruptly transported to the antebellum South, summoned to save a young boy — and son of a plantation owner — named Rufus, who’s drowning. Though she eventually returns to her own time, Dana continues to be pulled back, with each stay becoming progressively longer, uncertain if she will ever return to her life.
The panel began with Jacobs-Jenkins introducing an exclusive, 17-minute clip of the show. (And let me tell you right now that you don’t want to miss this show.) Afterwards, the group shared their initial impressions on the work they’re doing with Kindred and bringing it to a new generation. They all feel thankful and lucky they get to be a part of it. They discussed Butler and her work, with a couple citing how she and they wanted to tell the truth about Black legacy.
Dr. Jamieson asked about the cast’s experience in making a show like Kindred with everything going on today. Kaplan said that it was weird but good, saying, “You know that it’s going to teach people that it is wrong.” His hope is that the show will “change beliefs, change people, and hopefully change the world.” (Well said, David.)
Taking on a project like Kindred isn’t easy, especially with the intense and difficult subject it tackles. Smith and Irving, whose characters live in the time Dana is pulled to, both agreed that embodying the past and playing enslaved people was heavy but that it’s not in vain. Irving found empowerment within her role and was honored to play a character who was like her ancestors. Similarly, Johnson felt that heaviness even though Dana is a modern woman. She could feel her ancestors and the heaviness in the land while filming in Georgia, adding that it was both jarring and devastating.
Brown and Rankin explored a bit about their characters, both of whom are maternal figures in the show. Both women viewed their characters as mothers who would do whatever it takes to protect their children. Brown mentioned that Sarah is primarily in survival mode, where Rankin saw Margaret as a more desperate and complicit character. Kaplan supported Rankin’s answer as he discussed how Rufus learns his information. He talked about how Rufus’ father Tom has a heavy influence, and that Margaret adds to that. However, Rufus still has Dana influencing him in a more positive way.
The panel ended on a less heavy note as Dr. Jamieson emphasized that Kevin is one of the best men Butler has written, in the sense that he’s not a terrible person. He’s a very charming character. She wrapped up the panel by having the cast share some of their favorite moments during filming.
Kindred premieres on December 13 on Hulu.