Octavia E. Butler’s 1979 classic work, Kindred, boasts one of the hookiest premises of all time: a young, modern Black woman is sucked into 1815 and life as an enslaved individual in the antebellum South, and then spit back out into the present day at various intervals. I found the book, written for a young adult audience, to be addictive, and I turned the pages faster and faster to find out what would happen.
So I was excited when FX/Hulu announced they were going to release an eight-episode series, meant to be season 1, based on the book.
Though I watched all eight episodes and might tune into season 2, this version of Kindred let me down in a few key ways. First, and most noticeably, the series is replete with strong language and even some sexual content, which I wasn’t expecting because the book has no strong language, and the one scene of sexual violence is handled in a non-graphic way. The series was also darker, grittier, and not as redemptive as the book (although perhaps redemption comes in the next season). Another major difference, besides setting the series in 2016, not the 1970’s, is that Dana (Mallori Johnson), the heroine, is just getting to know her white, sort-of boyfriend, Kevin (Micah Stock), while in the book they are bound to one another in a committed marriage.
The result is that the viewer doesn’t know whether to trust Kevin or not, and we badly need him to be trustworthy. Dana, after all, is being flung back and forth between centuries against her will, into the dire threats of chattel slavery. In the book, readers rely on Kevin to support her through the insanity and trauma. We know he will be there for her. Though I bought the stoic Johnson as Dana—curious, intelligent, and full of quiet but steely courage—I never totally warmed up to Kevin. In fact, I don’t know if the viewer is supposed to like him.
Somehow, with all the changes, it’s still a riveting, watchable concept, and all the cliffhangers (will Dana escape attack/assault/capture in 1815 and make it back to the present day in time?) make for an engrossing show.
The premise makes you think. What would it be like to travel back in time and witness some of the people and events that preceded us? Would we be able to handle the violent, disease-ridden past, or, in Dana’s case, the horrific realities of being owned and treated like an animal, especially after living in the comparative freedom and autonomy of modern society? This question fuels Butler’s brilliant book, and to a lesser extent, this series.
As Christians, we know that God is with us in the present and was with our ancestors, both good and bad, evil and righteous, in the past. He witnessed it all, though we might never time travel ourselves. We know that, in his redemptive hands, however our long ago kindred lived their lives, God is weaving all our stories for the good, yesterday, today, and forever. (Rated TV-MA, Hulu)
About the Author
Lorilee Craker, a native of Winnipeg, Man., lives in Grand Rapids, Mich. The author of 15 books, she is the Mixed Media editor of The Banner. Find her on Instagram @thebooksellersdaughter or on her podcast Eat Like a Heroine.