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'Kindred' Cast on If the Series Changed Their Perspective of American History

What if you were transported back to slavery times with all of the knowledge of the 21st Century?

Kindred follows the story of a modern-day Black woman (played by Mallori Johnson) who is sent back in time to the plantation of her ancestors. A TV adaption of the science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler's 1979 novel, the series on FX takes you on a historical journey through time and gives you a perspective on life for colored people in the 19th century.

The series was created by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, who is also the showrunner. Kindred stars Micah Stock as “Kevin Franklin,” Ryan Kwanten as “Thomas Weylin,” Gayle Rankin as “Margaret Weylin,” Austin Smith as “Luke,” David Alexander Kaplan as “Rufus Weylin,” Sophina Brown as “Sarah” and Sheria Irving as “Olivia.”

We recently spoke with the cast of Kindred about what inspired them to be a part of the series and if the series changed their opinions on Black American history.

Mallori Johnson on why she wanted to be a part of the series.

I was already a fan of Octavia Butler before I had gotten the audition. Before that, I had read Brandon's adaption. I just loved the fact that it was like this huge, amazing world that had so many possibilities inside of a historical fiction. That to me was just something that was so brilliant, and really revolutionary, and something I had never kind of seen or heard of before. So that excited me.

For Micah, playing a white man in the 1800s with the knowledge of the present was wild.

It was wild. I think, as like the broader sort of like white population is becoming hip to the fact that the systems of oppression still very much exists in our world. Just in more diabolical ways, that going back and sort of seeing those systems incarnate, and in front of him, I think, is sort of... one certainly something I don't think he ever thought he'd have to face. But also that they're going to be navigating interracial relationship in 2016, which is its own conversation and a conversation about how you move in the world together. And as individuals, those conversations are forced on them very quickly when they have to go back in time. And the things that they contend with are perceptible. There's a very, very clear system and a very clear hierarchy, that I think Kevin is very uncomfortable ascribing to but recognizes that that's necessary for Dana's safety and for their mutual Survival.

On what Mallori took home from playing Dana James, she shared.

I can only hope that I have taken home a quarter of the amount of strength that Dana possesses. Her as a character, it was such a blessing to have played her at the time that I did. Because on set, I was really feeling insecure, I was in my head a lot. It was my first time ever being on a set with all of these beautiful experienced actors. I was really intimidated. And there were a lot of days where I just had to draw from her determination, her pillar of strength. Her wittiness. Her resourcefulness. I really wish I was like that in my life. I aspire to be like that in my life.

On if filming the series changed their perspective on American history, the cast shares:

Sophina: Not so much changed my perspective but deepened my understanding. Because of the research that it took going into filming the series. It was a really hard thing to learn the depth of cruelty. Because there are things we talk about it that you don't even imagine because it's just not, it's just not in you to think of and going back and hearing some historical counts and reading certain nonfiction books and things along the way, and just realizing how much was endured by our ancestors. Things that are just crazy that I learned about, I just didn't have the breadth. You know what I mean, that I have now. Didn't so much change, but it deepens.

Austin: For me, trying to stay in the sort of emotional state to film these long days. I can't imagine being somebody for whom that is just their existence. There's no getting in a car at the end of the night and have somebody drive you back to your apartment. That is your life. And for me, I think I'm now as close as I will ever be, to even beginning to have an inkling of an understanding of what the reality was. Because no matter what I imagined, no matter how accurate it will be, I know the reality was still far worse. So, having more of a sort of visceral understanding of that is what I would say has changed.

Sheria: These are these were our people. These were our ancestors. My perspective on American slavery did not change. But I became so much more aware of how I had to honor my ancestors, through Kindred, through this part creating three-dimensional human characters. Not even characters, but human beings. They are characters, but we're coming from it, to give them full life. They had dreams and hopes, possibilities. So we wanted to honor them in that way.

On why people should watch Kindred, Austin says, "We can't hide."

Austin: We can't hide from the history of this country. We're living in a moment where it's being erased from textbooks. It's being erased from books... like this are being banned. This curriculum is being moved out of schools. There are kids around the country who are going to school and not learning about the reality of slavery. And so I think, I don't want to forget what my ancestors survived. Because I think too, the shame of slavery does not belong to Black people. I'm not ashamed, someone survived so that I can be here. The shame of slavery belongs to the people who enslaved African people all over the world. So I have no shame about this. I take great pride and I'm actually honored to tell the stories of the people who survived so that I can be here. I understand that it's still not gonna be everybody's cup of tea but I think specifically Octavia's point of view about it is singular. So I think that alone makes it makes it worthwhile.

All eight episodes of Kindred are currently streaming on FX.


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