Ava DuVernay is ushering Octavia Butler’s work into a new era. The director is adapting Butler’s 1987 book Dawn for television, alongside director Victoria Mahoney (a Queen Sugar collaborator) and producer Charles D. King (Fences).
Dawn is the first book in Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy. The futuristic sci-fi tale takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where nearly all humans are gone, and the remaining few have been whisked away by an alien race called the Oankali, who want to breed with them. The story follows Lilith Iyapo, a black woman who wakes up to a new world after being taken by the aliens.
This will be the first on-screen adaptation of Butler’s literature, a somewhat surprising revelation considering her legacy as a seminal sci-fi writer. (Not to mention Hollywood’s thirst to adapt any sci-fi story that could possibly become a Star Wars–esque franchise.) Butler was a decorated literary pioneer, the first sci-fi writer to earn a MacArthur Fellowship (you know, the “Genius Grant”). She earned two Hugo Awards and was posthumously entered into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. She’s also an icon of the Afrofuturism world, envisioning literary realms that placed black characters front and center in otherworldly sci-fi settings, dystopian or otherwise.
Adapting Dawn is also a fitting next project for DuVernay, who is currently wrapping up another sci-fi adaptation: A Wrinkle in Time. However, the director is remixing that children’s classic by casting a biracial girl as the lead character and filling out the cast with largely non-white stars—including Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dr. Kate Murry, Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who, and Oprah as Mrs. Which (a galactic supernatural immortal, just like Oprah in real life).
Futuristic stories featuring black characters are starting to become more and more common, at least on TV. Amazon recently announced that it’s developing an alternative-history series titled Black America, which re-imagines a world in which former slaves were able to claim parts of the South for themselves and form a country called New Colonia (certainly not to be confused with HBO’s Confederate). And author Nnedi Okorafor recently announced that George R.R. Martin and HBO are optioning her fantasy novel Who Fears Death, which takes place in post-apocalyptic Sudan. Clearly, DuVernay’s Dawn couldn’t come at a better time.