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Review: ‘Kindred’

Octavia E. Butler’s 1979 novel kindred is an original story that, surprisingly, has withstood a live-action adaptation. A sci-fi tale about a young Black woman who spontaneously travels back to the Antebellum south to experience the institution of slavery and misogyny first-hand remains a modern classic. Now it has been turned into an eight-episode series by playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins that is more loosely based and inspired by Butler’s Kindred than a direct adaptation. Adding plots, character points and non-linear storytelling to the mix, Kindred the series is creative but perhaps needs more focus and the grace of Butler’s prose.

The original novel occurred in 1976, but the series is set in 2016 LA to reflect current race and gender relations. Dana James (Mallori Johnson) is a New Yorker who has recently moved to SoCal to pursue writing for television. Using money, her grandmother left her, Dana has got herself a small house and the equipment she needs to get her new venture started. An orphan since her mother disappeared, Dana’s aunt fills the maternal void but is judgmental about Dana’s life choices and questions her mental stability. All of this sets the stage for the start of Dana having nightmares that place her in the 19th century as an enslaved person on a Maryland plantation.

Although this adaptation has some exciting ideas that update the story for modern times, it can sometimes feel too big, scattered and less impactful than it should be. The most successful element of this adaptation is Mallori Johnson’s compelling performance as Dana. Watching her adapt Dana’s modern-day sensibilities to a different time in America is a clear highlight. However, the added story and plot points make this adaptation feel more complicated at times than it needs to be.

That said, we’d recommend you check this out on Disney+, as Mallori Johnson’s performance is excellent and worth your time.

Kindred premieres on Disney+ on Wednesday, February 8, 2023, in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The series is also streaming now on Hulu.

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