Octavia Butler’s seismic sci-fi novel Kindred opens with a dark summoning. Dana, a young Black writer living in Los Angeles in 1976, is transported back in time to a riverbank in Maryland in the early 1800s, where a little white boy is drowning. Dana, in spite of the dizzying time travel that brought her there, leaps into action, immediately trying to save his life. The scene is jarring and propulsive, setting the tone for Kindred, which sees Dana time-traveling back-and-forth between the present and the past.
It’s also the opening scene for the new teaser for FX’s adaptation of Kindred, available to watch exclusively below. The show, debuting December 13 on Hulu, is created by showrunner, executive producer, and writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. For Jacobs-Jenkins, a lauded playwright and MacArthur fellow who previously worked on HBO’s Watchmen, the upcoming eight-episode first season has been a dream in the making since 2010. “Around that time, it was the golden age of television—Breaking Bad, Mad Men,” he recalls. His agents asked him to think about potential TV adaptations. Jacobs-Jenkins, who first began reading Butler’s work as a kid, thanks to an influential babysitter, immediately thought of Kindred.
Released in 1979, Kindred tells the story of Dana, a young Black woman who gets transported back in time to the plantation where her ancestors lived and worked. She acclimates to life under enslavement, figuring out how to survive until she’s able to return to her present life in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, a white man named Kevin. The story is harrowing, a tensile exploration of the horrors of slavery and the psychological steeliness it took to survive. “I set out to make people feel history,” Butler once said.
Jacobs-Jenkins knew the book had potential as a series, finding creative partners at Darren Aronofsky’s Protozoa Pictures and in Courtney Lee-Mitchell, who holds the rights to the book and signed on as an executive producer. After selling the show to FX in 2016, he found another key collaborator in auteur Janicza Bravo, who signed on to executive produce and direct the pilot.
“I’m nervous and excited for people to see what we’ve been trying to do for a very long time,” he says.
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The show stars Mallori Johnson as Dana, in her debut leading role. At the time of her audition, Johnson was a fourth-year student at Juilliard, being trained on how to prepare for the real world of casting. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is a really cool opportunity to practice auditioning!’” Johnson tells VF with a laugh. She was a huge fan of Jacobs-Jenkins’s theater work, excited to get a chance to get a glimpse of his adaptation. But it was better than practice when she nabbed the role. “It was really surreal,” she says of landing a plum role so soon after her 2021 graduation. “I still feel like a student.”
“It felt like we were meeting a star,” Jacobs-Jenkins says of Johnson. “A very unique star. No one had ever seen her before and what she’s capable of, and that felt right. That’s Octavia’s aura.”
In the TV adaptation, Jacobs-Jenkins made a few key tweaks to the narrative. Instead of setting the story in 1976, he set it in 2016. “There was something really safe about putting it in the past, because our instinct is to feel superior to the past,” he explains. “I didn’t want [the audience] to feel like they could emotionally escape from what the main character was going through by saying, ‘Oh, that’s 40 years ago. This is about my parents’ generation.’ It’s really about people alive today.”
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