43 years of progress separate the publication of Octavia E. Butler’s masterpiece Kindred and the present day, but its themes have only increased in relevance since then. Growing in popularity through the years, Kindred receives its first screen adaptation as an original series by FX. Launching with eight episodes streaming on Hulu on Tuesday, December 13th, Butler’s time-traveling sci-fi saga of a woman bound to her past is ready to enlighten a new generation while giving longtime fans of the novel a new way to experience the story.
Dana (Mallori Johnson) needed a fresh start when she moved to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a soap opera writer, but dreams quickly give way to nightmares from the past. Thinking she’s going crazy, a date with a waiter named Kevin (Micah Stock) gives her a witness to her mysterious terrors, which turn out not to be nightmares but spontaneous moments of time travel to the early 1800s. Her travels seem to be tethered to a white boy named Rufus (David Alexander Kaplan), raised on a plantation where she is treated like a slave. Thankfully, Kevin can accompany Dana to the past and pretend to be her master as long as they hang on to each other when she senses the pull coming.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Branden Jacobs-Jenkins adapts Octavia E. Butler’s novel and serves as showrunner and executive producer. Among the biggest changes to the source material is the relationship between Dana and Kevin from an interracial married couple to two people on a first date extended by circumstance. Their skin tones are kept the same, and in place of relatives opposed to their relationship, they face a pair of nosy neighbors named Hermione and Carlo (Brooke Bloom and Louis Cancelini), who assign racial stereotypes to Dana. Set specifically in 2016, this subplot is exacerbated by the couple’s obsession with election news coverage. Themes of racism and entitlement are still very present in the time jumps, and Octavia E. Butler’s intentions of helping audiences empathize with the plight of slaves are very much intact.
Mallori Johnson gives an emotionally-charged performance as Dana, who must navigate how she can behave as a Black woman in both 2016 and the 1800s. Beyond the mystery of why she is repeatedly shackled to a time of enslavement, the series also adds another intriguing plot to her past. And with so many time travel stories in pop culture, Dana and Kevin have to be careful not to change the future while interacting with the past.
As the first of Butler’s works to be adapted for the screen, Kindred is a good example of how her stories could be contemporized in the future. The recent National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee’s works are now highly sought after in Hollywood, with other adaptations in development by the likes of Viola Davis (Wild Seed), Issa Rae and JJ Abrams (Fledgling), Natalie Portman and Ari Aster (BloodChild), and Peter Chernin and Garrett Bradley (Parable of the Sower).
In the same way the book has always been a page-turner, this eight-part adaptation of Kindred is addicting, although a little slow to start. The cause is some front-loaded exposition for new story elements that maybe could’ve been dispersed, but the overall experience is nonetheless rewarding. With Hulu releasing all of the episodes at once, the good news is you won’t have to wait to find out what happens next after each cliffhanger episode wraps.
I give Kindred 4 out of 5 stars.
Kindred premieres Tuesday, December 13th, exclusively on Hulu.