Exclusive: Octavia Butler’s ‘Dawn’ Being Developed for TV, Producer Talks Adaptation and Diversity Behind the Scenes

Exclusive: Octavia Butler's 'Dawn' Being Developed for TV, Producer Talks Adaptation and Diversity Behind the Scenes

In Octavia Butler’s 1987 novel Dawn, a human race in danger of extinction is given a final chance
to survive by mating with an alien species to create a new hybrid race. The
first book in Butler’s Lilith’s Brood
series (formerly Xenogenesis), adaptation rights were recently acquired by
producer Allen Bain ("Revenge of the Green Dragons").

"Dawn" is the first television series to be
developed under his new Bainframe sci-fi banner. Gary Pearl, Thomas Carter and
Teddy Smith are set to executive produce along with Bain.

As the project is in development and putting together
its production team, Bain made time to talk with S&A about his plans for
the series.

JAI
TIGGETT: Can you talk about your background and what led you this
project?

ALLEN
BAIN: My career started with a very small movie called "Manito."
It was a story about two Latino brothers in Washington Heights on the eve of
the younger brother’s graduation. We played at Sundance and we won an award
there. We had no known cast, we made the movie for less than the cost of a car
at the time. It was my first film, and that’s what launched my career in
filmmaking. Going from there to where I am now, I feel like I’m still sticking
to a common thread of telling stories that you might not normally see in the
media in a mainstream way, and stories that interest me as well on a human
level.

I’m a first generation American from a family of immigrants.
I have a connection to this country that my parents don’t, and so the makeup of
this country is something I’m internally fascinated with. I think it’s an
endemic theme in Lilith’s Brood, that
you have all these people of different backgrounds coming together and they
have to make a decision – are we going to stay together and be part of our own
clan, or will we breed with these aliens and create an entirely new race?

Have
you always been interested in Butler’s work?

I didn’t always know about it. I’ve always liked science
fiction since I was a child and when I decided to start this company I started
diving back into some of the books I read growing up and also started to expand
my horizons. I came across Lilith’s Brood
knowing nothing about it and after reading it, I have to say that Octavia
Butler is one of the best authors I’ve ever read, sci-fi or otherwise. I fell
in love with Lilith’s Brood and her
writing and decided that this was going to be my first project.

We’ve
heard that it’s really difficult to get the rights to her material. What’s your
secret?

I don’t know why I’ve succeeded where others have possibly
failed, but I think that I’m very persistent and my passion for this book is
out of this world. 

I think it’s one of the best sci-fi books
ever written and I know that’s saying a lot, but it’s true. But it took a
lot of persistence and it wasn’t easy.

You’ve
said that one of your goals is to make optimistic science fiction. What do you mean by
that?

I think a lot of the sci-fi we have now dwells on the idea
that the world is coming to an end, one person is saving that world, and
everything is grim and depressing. The projects that I’m looking at are a
little more complex than that. I don’t think that "Dawn" is a
dystopian novel by any means. I think it’s more of a utopian novel because
humans are getting a chance to restart society. I know it sounds a little cliché
but I want people to dream of a better tomorrow.

The sci-fi I read or watched growing up was about going to
the next level as a society. Sort of the linchpin of that is the original "Star
Trek" TV show. It was about a future society where things weren’t perfect,
you had human problems, but society had advanced from where it was. And I think
a lot of the things that were portrayed on that show have come to pass, whether
it be from a racial perspective or a technological perspective.

Because
of Dawn’s subject matter and because
people of color are underrepresented in sci-fi in general, people will likely
be looking for diversity with this project.

That’s hugely important to me, and I also want to stay true
to Octavia Butler’s text. I don’t want to muddle it in any way. The lead of
this book is an African-American female and the lead of the TV show should be
the same. And I think it’s important to bring together a team behind the scenes
that represents the multicultural aspects of the book, because that’s what the
book is about.

Sometimes
with an ensemble or multi-ethnic cast, the show will depend on a white
character as a way into the story, to get a mainstream audience interested. Is
that a consideration for you?

I think that perception in Hollywood that we have to enter
from a white male perspective has been proven wrong, especially recently. With
"Empire" on Fox, there is no white male leading you into that world,
and it’s fantastic. [The same with] "Straight Outta Compton," which surprised
everybody.

And
I’ve personally come across this with one of the more recent features that I
produced, "Revenge of the Green Dragon," which was based on a New Yorker article on Asian youth gangs
in Chinatown, Queens. The guy who wrote the article was the crime beat reporter
for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker for 10 years and when I
reached out to him he said, ‘I can’t tell you how many people have tried to
option this article, but the number one thing I’ve always held onto is that I
will not option it to anybody to have Brad Pitt play the white cop who goes
undercover in the Asian gang.’ So I made a promise to him that that would never
happen, and the movie came out last year and we stuck true to that. And I think
that’s part of my mentality for producing, which is that we should tell the
story in the right way or it shouldn’t be told.

In
Lilith’s Brood, Lilith is the center of it and she’s surrounded by an ensemble.
The way that I see the show would be an international and multicultural cast. I’m
not saying that there wouldn’t be white characters on the show, but I
don’t think making them leads for the sake of demographics and perceived
notions of success makes any sense at all.

How
closely do you plan to stick to the original material with the adaptation?

I definitely want to stay true to the material and honor the
legacy of Octavia Butler, because I think that’s important and I do think that’s possible in 2015. I think my predecessors have broken a lot of ground in
television and the distribution channels have changed, so you can actually make
TV now that you couldn’t 15 years ago. Back then a show had to be episodic in
the sense that you could tune in any day, it didn’t matter if you knew the
backstory, and you could watch it from beginning to end and be satisfied. That’s
changed tremendously in the last 15 years or so.

I also think the types of characters you can show on TV now
and not have them appeal to the lowest common denominator is appealing to me. If
you look at "Lost" a while back, they had an international cast. There
was a Korean couple that actually spoke Korean, it was subtitled and we went
back to Korea and it just kind of opened up a whole new world in terms of
television for the masses that I don’t think we were accustomed to. And so I
feel like with that sort of breakthrough and many others like it, the types of
stories that you can tell on TV now are completely different.

The themes of the book are timely
considering all that’s happening in society now. What do you hope that people
will relate to from the story?

The genius of the book is that by introducing an alien race
into the equation, it redefines the differences among humans and changes the
context of everything. It begs the question of what race really is by
introducing an entirely new race into the fictional universe that she created.
I think that by doing that, you can look at society differently than when you’re
in the throes of it. She gives you another lens to look at it, and I think
that’s something everyone can relate to.
*

"Dawn" is in early development stages. We’ll keep you posted on updates as we hear more.  

This interview was
edited for length and clarity.

This Article is related to: Interviews and tagged , , ,


Comments

richard butts

O. Butler is my hero, and Thomas Carter is one of the most prolific producers in the business. I’m dying to see …the Green Dragon, based on the directors vision. So i’m on pins and needles for the prospect of this series becoming reality- and not the t.v., kind…

Amy

Yes! I’m so excited about this!

saundra

please consider Kindred – series sell it to showtime like Outlander ……can’t wait to see this on TV i have loved her since highschool

Amala

If he can maintain the book as is, there will be a wonderful story! Butler was so inclusive in all of her books. I always thought Kindred would make it to the screen first. Can’t wait for this to be done. Thank you, Allen Bain!

Mark

Really excited to hear about this. I am a fan of Octavia Butler’s work. I hope this makes it to television

Bison4Life

I really hope this can be pulled off. I hope the original vision of the book remains. If that done this film can become a game changer.

Luce

Crossing my fingers that everything he said hold true. Can’t believe, I had goosebumps reading this. LoL, good luck mister Bein. This could be done like Sense8 if he’s going international with the story.

G.G.

I love the Xenogenesis series. This is really exciting, I hope it gets done.

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