related, the time-travel drama premiering this week on Hulu, 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, smuggled to Hollywood to stage a movie version that would faithfully bring to theater audiences the story of Dana, a young black writer who travels back in time to a Maryland plantation and meets her own ancestors. The story of her failed quest to adapt the book sheds light on why Butler’s work took so long to hit the screen.
Kindryd had been working on Star Trek as assistant to famed writer-producer Gene L. Coon, reviewing scripts and giving Coon her notes, as she describes in her forthcoming memoir Code switching. “I tried to get into the movie industry, and it didn’t work,” Kindryd tells Polygon. She 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. At the time, when she was writing a spec script for a Black sitcom, she decided to let one of the kids shoplift, and the show’s creators were horrified.
After encountering 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 moved back to LA and stumbled upon Octavia Butler’s writing. The discovery wouldn’t be an adjustment, but it would start a lifelong friendship.
When Kindryd read Butler’s related, she was captivated by the novel’s portrayal of “the inability of white people to see what’s right in front of them,” and the ways in which white people cling to their own power no matter what it costs them. “It appealed to me. And I fell in love with Dana’, the main character of the book. “I just felt, people need to see this.”
Kindryd tried to get in touch with Butler’s folks to find out if the option for the book was available, but was stymied until a friend suggested they contact Butler directly. It turned out that the two women lived on the same street, a few blocks apart. Kindryd called Butler and befriended her, taking her to meet Kindryd’s friend Rosilyn Heller, who had become the first female vice president of a motion picture studio.
Unfortunately, the rights to related had already been chosen by actress Talia Shire (rocky) along with her husband, Jack Schwartzman, who had recently produced the Peter Sellers vehicle There are. “I didn’t understand why she chose it,” says Kindryd. But she was sure that “it was not in their souls, and they would soon become discouraged.” She decided to work on setting things up so that when the option expired, “I would be ready.”
Kindryd never contacted Shire and Schwartzman directly. “I was even more insecure then than now,” she says. And as a black woman producer, she says, “there are no footsteps to follow. I’m in uncomfortable territory. But I still tried, in my own way.”
Still, Kindryd and Butler became fast friends, as they were both outsiders. “She didn’t feel like she really belonged anywhere. She was just like me,” Kindryd recalls. Butler’s mother and Kindryd’s grandmother had both been housekeepers, so “[they] both had grown up the same way: at the white lady’s house, in the kitchen, with a book.” They had both spent all their free time in the library, where Butler still spent her time. According to Kindryd, Butler didn’t have a car, so she traveled around LA on public transportation, where she was constantly harassed.
Kindryd told her friend that when the option for related passed, she wanted to be the first to know. She had nothing concrete to offer Butler, but she wanted to do her best to get something going.
In 1984 Kindryd visited Zimbabwe and she got an idea. Zimbabwe had gained independence in 1980 and white settlers were leaving the country en masse, 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 extremely beautiful. Kindryd met a minister who knew her friend Roberta Sykes, and they hatched a plan: They could film a movie on location 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 any profits would eventually be recouped abroad.
Kindryd loved the idea of using the legacy of colonialism to fund a film about the black experience. When she told Butler about the idea, “She thought it was funny. She loved it.”
But when she returned to LA and pitched the idea around town, producers and studio execs all shot her. A movie had just been shot 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 the entire continent was now off limits, because as Kindryd puts it, Hollywood is “a bunch of goats following each other”.
Eventually, Kindryd moved back to Australia, but she and Butler maintained a steady correspondence – Kindryd still has the letters Butler sent her, complaining about rejections from publishers who didn’t understand how to categorize her work. “This is the kind of shit I’m into related over and over,” Butler writes in a letter. When Kindryd returned to the United States, she stayed at Butler’s house, where Butler had a huge bathtub, even though she hated baths.
Kindryd made another attempt to lay the groundwork for one related adaptation in the late 1980s. She knew someone close to actor Alfre Woodard, who had broken out and earned an Oscar nomination for the 1983 film. Cross Creek, so she asked them to pass on the book in case Woodard was interested in starring in it. Woodard reportedly never received the book, as her friend felt the book’s subject matter was inappropriate due to the aforementioned respectability politics. Coming from a middle-class black background, the friend felt relatedThe topic is distasteful, says Kindryd. “We just don’t want to talk about those things.” Years later, Woodard starred in a critically acclaimed audio adaptation of related.
Unlike Kindryd, Hollywood has taken decades to appreciate Butler’s work, which has been praised by critics for being ahead of its time. “That was what frustrated her so much,” says Kindryd. Especially in her later novels Parable of the sower and Parable of the TalentsButler could see the things she wrote about starting to happen in real life.
“She was ethical and she had very strong values and she didn’t mind saying, ‘I can’t finish this book, I’ll give you the money back,'” Kindryd says. “She was so true to herself and to her values.”
Kindryd never lost her hope to see related on screen. In fact, her connection to the book and Butler ran so deep that when she got tired of using her ex-husband’s last name, she turned to her boyfriend. When Butler died in 2006, Kindryd changed her name to the novel’s title in tribute, except with a slightly different spelling. “I’ve changed my name to Octavia, to keep her close to me.”