Family members, the time-travel drama premiering on Hulu this week, marks the first time Octavia Butler’s seminal sci-fi novel has been brought to the screen, but it’s not the first attempt. Nearly 40 years ago, Andreea Kindryd, a veteran of the original star trek TV series, rushed in Hollywood to mount a film version that would faithfully bring the story of Dana, a young black writer who travels back in time to a plantation in Maryland and meets her own ancestors, to the theater-going public. The story of her unsuccessful quest to adapt the book sheds light on why Butler’s work took so long to reach the screen.
Kindryd had worked on star trek as an assistant to famed writer-producer Gene L. Coon, reviewing the scripts and giving Coon his notes on them, as he details in his forthcoming memoir. Code change. “I was trying to break into the film industry and it wasn’t working out,” Kindryd tells Polygon. He felt that the creatives working in Hollywood at the time were intent on creating a respectable image of black people and “[her] things were too weird for them.” When he wrote a spec script for a dark comedy at the time, he decided to have one of the kids shoplift and the show’s creators were horrified.
After running into too many barriers in her attempts to become a full-fledged producer, Kindryd moved to Australia in the 1970s to produce documentaries. But in the early 1980s, she returned to Los Angeles and stumbled upon Octavia Butler’s writing. The discovery wouldn’t amount to an adaptation, but it would start a lifelong friendship.
When Kindryd read Butler Family members, he was captivated by how the novel portrays “white people’s inability to see what’s right in front of them” and the ways in which white people hold on to their own power, no matter what it takes. “Spoke to me. And I fell in love with Dana”, the protagonist of the book. “I just felt people have to see this.”
Kindryd tried to contact Butler’s people to find out if the option for the book was available, but was unable to until a friend suggested contacting Butler directly. As it turned out, the two women lived on the same street, just a few blocks apart. Kindryd called Butler and befriended her, taking her to visit Kindryd’s friend Rosilyn Heller, who would become the first female vice president of a movie studio.
Unfortunately, the rights of Family members he had already been optioned by actress Talia Shire (Rocky) along with her husband, Jack Schwartzman, who had recently produced the vehicle for Peter Sellers Being there. “I couldn’t understand why he had chosen it,” says Kindryd. But she was sure that “it was not in her soul, and they would be easily discouraged.” She resolved to work to set things up so that when the option expired, she “would be ready to go.”
Kindryd never contacted Shire and Schwartzman directly. “She was even more insecure then than I am today,” she says. And as a black producer, she says, “there are no steps to take. I am in uncomfortable territory. But she was still trying, in my own way.”
Still, Kindryd and Butler became fast friends, bonding over the fact that they were both strangers. “She didn’t feel like she really belonged anywhere. She was just like me,” Kindryd recalls. Butler’s mother and Kindryd’s grandmother had been housewives, so “[they] they had both grown up the same way: in the white lady’s house, in the kitchen, with a book. They had both spent all their free time in the library, which was still where Butler spent his time. According to Kindryd, Butler did not have a car, so she moved around Los Angeles using public transportation, where she was constantly harassed.
Kindryd told her friend that every time the option of Family members expired, I wanted to be the first to know. She didn’t have anything concrete to offer Butler, but she wanted to do whatever she could to make something work.
In 1984, Kindryd visited Zimbabwe and got an idea. Zimbabwe had won its independence in 1980 and white settlers were leaving the country in droves, but then-Prime Minister Robert Mugabe would not allow them to take money out of the country. And meanwhile, the country had huge plantations that looked absolutely beautiful. Kindryd met with a government minister who knew her friend Roberta Sykes and they hatched a plan: they could shoot a movie on one of these plantations for free and encourage white settlers to invest the money they couldn’t take with them. in the hope that eventually, any profit would be recouped abroad.
Kindryd loved the idea of using the legacy of colonialism to finance a film about the black experience. When he told Butler about the idea, “he thought it was fun. She loved him.”
But when he returned to Los Angeles and pitched the idea around town, producers and studio executives shot it down. She had just finished shooting a movie in Kenya, a live-action adaptation of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and “it hadn’t worked at all”. A disastrous experience filming in Africa meant that the entire continent was now off limits, because as Kindryd puts it, Hollywood is “a bunch of goats following each other.”
Kindryd eventually returned to Australia, but she and Butler were in constant correspondence: Kindryd still has the letters Butler sent her, in which she complains about rejections from publishers who did not understand how to categorize her work. This is the type of shit I have on Family members over and over again,” Butler writes in a letter. When Kindryd returned to the United States, he stayed at Butler’s house, where Butler had a huge bathtub despite the fact that he hated bathing.
Kindryd made one more attempt to lay the groundwork for a Family members adaptation in the late ’80s. I knew someone close to actor Alfre Woodard, who had broken out and earned an Oscar nomination for the 1983 film. cross stream, so he asked them to pass him the book in case Woodard was interested in starring in it. Woodard reportedly never received the book because his friend felt the book’s subject matter was inappropriate due to the aforementioned respectability policy. Coming from a black, middle-class background, the friend found Family membersThe subject is unpleasant, says Kindryd. “We just don’t want to talk about those things.” Years later, Woodard starred in an acclaimed audio adaptation of Family members.
Unlike Kindryd, it has taken decades for Hollywood to appreciate Butler’s work, which critics have praised as being ahead of its time. “That’s what frustrated her so much,” Kindryd says. Especially in her latest novels. parable of the Sower Y parable of the talentsButler could see that the things he was writing about were beginning to happen in real life.
“She was ethical and had very strong values and didn’t mind saying, ‘I can’t finish this book, let me pay you back,’” Kindryd says. “She was so true to herself and her values.”
Kindryd never gave up his hope of seeing Family members on the screen. In fact, her connection to the book and Butler was so deep that when she got tired of using her ex-husband’s last name, she looked to her friend. When Butler died in 2006, Kindryd changed her name to the novel’s title as a tribute, except with a slightly different spelling. “I changed my name in honor of Octavia, to keep her close to me.”
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