"All that you touch you Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God Is Change." —Octavia E. Butler
In just a few short weeks, Kindred, a novel by Octavia E. Butler published in 1979, will be released on Hulu as a T.V. series. The visionary, genre-bending narrative genius of polymath Afrofuturist imaginarianist Octavia Butler will be on Hulu. There have been time-traveling shows, but never one like this. And while The Watchmen and Lovecraft Country are phenomenal, Butler is genealogy.
Kindred is about slavery, community, interracial relations, and time travel. It is about reckoning with the contemporary legacies and consequences of the past.
In this telling,"the F.X. series centers on 'Dana James' (Mallori Johnson), a young Black woman and aspiring writer who has uprooted her life of familial obligation and relocated to Los Angeles, ready to claim a future that, for once, feels all her own. But before she can settle into her new home, she finds herself being violently pulled back and forth in time. She emerges at a nineteenth-century plantation, a place remarkably and intimately linked with Dana and her family. An interracial romance threads through Dana's past and present, and the clock is ticking as she struggles to confront secrets she never knew ran through her blood, in this genre-breaking exploration of the ties that bind."
The novel Kindred, a genre-exploding masterpiece, had previously been remade into a graphic novel in 2017 by Damian Duffy and John Jennings. Nnedi Okorafor penned the introduction. The art and production are stunning and intense, revealing detailed depictions of different geographies and temporalities through color and form—a historical graphic novel of the present.
Octavia Butler was awarded multiple Hugo and Nebula awards and was the first science fiction writer to be awarded a McArthur "genius" grant in 1995. During her lifetime, though Parable of the Sower was a New York Times Notable Book in 1994, Butler was never on the New York Times bestseller list. This changed on September 13, 2020, when Parable of the Sower debuted at #14 on the paperback trade fiction. Butler passed to their ancestors in 2006.
Why the NYT in 2020? Two primary reasons: COVID-19 and the global uprisings against police brutality.
Parable of the Sower, part one of an unfinished trilogy, included a second installment entitled, Parable of the Talents. The unfinished Parable of the Trickster was to complete the "planned trilogy of novels about humanity's uncertain future."
Prophetic and visionary, forewarning and divinatory, as has been pointed out elsewhere, Butler's writings anticipated the arrival of a populist authoritarian pseudo-Christian demagogue and the mass movement of people violently preserving the tradition of xenophobic patriarchy and capitalism.
"As her published novels demonstrate, Octavia Butler was no utopian; in fact she rejected utopian thinking in the strongest possible terms. She believed human beings were biological organisms with sharp instincts for self-preservation that had been honed by evolution over innumerable millennia; she believed evolution had made us clever but mean, creative but selfish and short-sighted."
While not new to everyone, readers came to the work of Butler, particularly the Parable books, in the contexts of COVID-19 and the massive global uprisings against police brutality. Though set off by the death of George Floyd and the hands and knees of Minneapolis police agents, anti-police brutality organizing and abolitionist political movements resisting the "policing of the planet" was an already long-burning prairie fire.
Four decades after publication, Kindred is still "held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement…The intersectionality of race, history and the treatment of women addressed within the original work remain critical topics in contemporary dialogue, both in the classroom and in the public sphere."
In September 2001, Butler addressed the U.N.'s World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance meeting in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 to September 8. The Conference was one of the most significant international gatherings, but understandably it was eclipsed in the days after the attacks on 9-11.
"But whatever is the source of our intolerance, what can we do about it? What can we do to improve ourselves? Of course, we can resist acting on our nastier hierarchical tendencies. Most of us do that most of the time already. And we can make a greater effort to teach children to resist their hierarchical impulses and beliefs and to channel what they can't resist into sports and careers.
"Will this work? Well, it hasn't so far. Too many people will not, perhaps cannot, do it. There is, unfortunately, satisfaction to be enjoyed in feeling superior to other people.
"Back during the early 1960s there was a United Nations television commercial, the audio portion of which went something like this: 'Ignorance, fear, disease, hunger, suspicion, hatred, war.' That was it, although I would have added 'greed' and 'vengeance' to the list. All or any of these can be the catalyst that turns hierarchical thinking into hierarchical behavior. Amid all this, does tolerance have a chance?
"Only if we want it to. Only when we want it to. Tolerance, like any aspect of peace, is forever a work in progress, never completed, and, if we're as intelligent as we like to think we are, never abandoned."
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