Now Might Be as Good a Time as Any to Bring Octavia Butler's 'Kindred' to the Screen

April 20 2017
Abrams ComicArts Looking for something to watch while catching up on my emails (I'm months behind), I decided to give Starz's fantasy/sci-fi/drama/romance series "Outlander" a try; It's been recommended to me before, but, on the surface, it just hasn't looked like anything I would want to watch over the long term, since I was looking for something to binge-watch. But, growing impatient after clicking through screen-after-screen of TV series on Amazon Prime, unable to settle on something (first-world problems), I decided to give "Outlander" a try (3 seasons of it awaited me). The American-British series is based on the historical time travel novels of the same name by Diana Gabaldon, and follows a married World War II nurse in 1945 who finds herself transported back in time to Scotland in 1743, where she becomes involved in a series of historically notable uprisings and wars that took place in Great Britain and Ireland during that period. Watching the very first episode in which we meet our lead, Claire Randall, who is suddenly transported back in time, through a mechanism that isn't immediately explained, it didn't take long before I thought of Octavia Butler's exploration of slavery via time travel novel "Kindred," for what I think should be obvious reasons. Now is probably as good a time as any for "Kindred" to become a movie. We're just beginning what I call "slavery era content 2.0" (and not in a derogatory way) with project's like "Underground" and Nate Parker's "The Birth of a Nation," as well as MACRO's Harriet Tubman film, each promising a *different* kind of slave narrative on screen. One that, we could say, breaks free (pun intended) of the tacit restrictions that slave era narratives have often been limited by, and instead explore these stories of what was then a legal economic system of oppression, via unexpected genres; like action, thriller, mystery, romance, depicting slave men and women as essentially heroes with agency, who took decisive action in battling for their respective freedoms, no matter the costs. As the creators of "Underground" have said, an objective with the series is to inspire - depicting slaves not solely as victimized, but also to glorify them for fighting back despite the odds; for their intelligence and for their courage. So it is in consideration of this seeming new trend that seeks to advance the slave narrative - introducing more stories of grit, daring and heroism and exploring them within genres that one wouldn't typically expect to find slave narratives, giving them a stylistically fresh veneer - that I say that a film or TV series adaptation of Butler's "Kindred" would probably fit in perfectly with the zeitgeist, given its fantasy/sci-fi/action elements. For those unfamiliar, in brief, "Kindred," set in 1976 (it was published in 1979) follows Dana, a 20-something-year-old black woman who is inexplicably and repeatedly wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. Each time her stay is extended, as well as becomes more arduous, and more dangerous. But she soon realizes the reason for these repeat time-travel occurrences, as she's faced with a task: she must protect a young slaveholder she meets with each trip into the past, until he can father her great-grandmother, so that she herself can eventually be born. It's a quick read; a fast-paced, action-oriented time-travel story that's probably as entertaining and commercial as any fictional "slavery-themed" film ever made, and I think it'll play well to audiences if made today. I am aware that there have been past attempts to adapt the novel. Before Butler passed away, I recall interviews she gave in which she spoke about these attempts, although mostly broadly without giving specifics. She's shared that the novel has been optioned a number of times since it was published, but typically by independent producers who would have to then seek funding to finance the adaptation, with each one ultimately unsuccessful. Most recently, in 2013, publisher Abrams ComicArts announced that the company would publish a graphic novel based on "Kindred." Abrams acquired rights to the novel from Writers House literary agent Merrilee Heifetz. The graphic novel was to be adapted by Damian Duffy and illustrated by John Jennings, with a fall 2014 publish date eyed under the Abrams ComicArts imprint. That didn't happen; but I learned that it will be published in January 2017. There's even a cover for it, which you can see above, at the top of this post. My research tells me that in 2007, literary agent Merrilee Heifetz, who represents the Butler estate, announced that she’d received permission from the estate to seek out publishers to produce comics adaptations of Butler’s novels. At the time, there were no deals in place, but Heifetz had begun shopping the idea to graphic novel publishers, stating that “The estate wants to make sure that Octavia’s audience continues to grow... they want to make sure she has younger readers.” Two years later, in 2009, Beacon Press, marking the 30th anniversary of the novel, announced a collaboration with the Butler estate to produce a graphic novel adaptation of Kindred, and they released a call for proposals from cartoonists/illustrators to work on the adaptation. There is no evidence that Beacon Press did eventually publish a graphic novel adaptation of "Kindred." But if anyone knows otherwise, do share. The news from Abrams ComicArts suggests that Beacon likely did not, as agent Heifetz apparently moved on to another publisher. After the announcement of the graphic novel in 2013, I did wonder whether that hinted at possibly good chances that a movie adaptation might follow; after all, graphic novel/comic book adaptations are seemingly all the rage currently, and this is one that comes with subject matter and themes that are trendy, explored in fantastical ways that haven't quite been done before. So if you're one of those hoping for filmed version of "Kindred," a graphic novel adaptation to start is a step in the *right* direction, if only because, as reps for her estate said above, the work might become more accessible to the young audiences that Hollywood studio production decisions target most often - especially where the more expensive movies are concerned. And the more popular and wide-reaching "Kindred" becomes, the more likely it is to get Hollywood's attention; or, at least, attracting financing, if produced independently, might not be as challenging as it's been over the previous many years, if the producer can demonstrate that there's a significant enough audience that comes built-in. I should also note that Ernest Dickerson has long been trying to raise funding for his adaptation of Butler's 1984 novel "Clay's Ark." Also, an adaptation of "Dawn," the first book in her "Lilith's Brood" series (formerly "Xenogenesis"), is also in development as, just last year, rights were acquired by producer Allen Bain ("Revenge of the Green Dragons") who has plans for a television series to be developed under his new Bainframe sci-fi banner. But with interest in slave narratives still relatively high, as well as the success that "slavery era 2.0" projects have had thus far, and the upcoming publication of the graphic novel, and film and TV interests in other Butler novels, things could be coming together at the right time for a film or TV series adaptation of "Kindred" to actually be greenlit. If you've never read "Kindred" pick up a copy now by clicking on the image immediately below.
Kindredbook
by Tambay Obenson on April 20 2017

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