How The TV Show of Octavia Butler's Dawn Will Stay True to Her Incredible Vision

Illustration for article titled How The TV Show of Octavia Butler's Dawn Will Stay True to Her Incredible Vision

Making Octavia Butler’s novel Dawn into a television show sounds like kind of a foolhardy idea. It’s a post-apocalyptic storyline, in which the Earth is basically on the brink of destruction, and the last humans are offered salvation by aliens... who want to mate with us and change us. How do you put that on TV?


The other day, it was announced that Allen Bain’s Bainframe production company had optioned Butler’s Dawn for television. This is the first book in the Lilith’s Brood series, previously known as the Xenogenesis series. We were wondering how Bain could possibly do justice to such a challenging book—so we asked him. Here’s what he told us.

There’s so much going on in this book. It’s a post-apocalyptic story with alien spaceships. How do you think you can pull this off on a TV budget?

Lilith’s Brood is actually very contained. It’s not a space opera. The action of the first book, DAWN, takes place on the Oankali (alien) ship, which is entirely organic – no plastic, metal or tech - a living ship. It’s too early to worry about budgets.

How do you do justice to Octavia Butler’s wonderfully strange vision of a reshaped humanity? Are we ready for that on television?

Staying true to Ms. Butler’s vision and legacy is of the utmost importance to me. Octavia was a genius - and this series is high concept with a lot of heavy intellectual themes, which makes the adaptation difficult. I think audiences are waiting for the first elevated science fiction TV series in a while. I believe this is it.


What do you think you’ll do about the explicit and bizarre sexuality in the book?

The sex is graphic in the book, and we’ve never seen anything like it. Inter-species sex with multiple partners. It’s brilliant because it is disturbingly foreign. I’m not sure how far you can go with inter-species sex on a TV show—I’m interested in exploring. It’s a whole different set of rules, aliens having sex with humans is an integral part of the book and is something we will definitely pay careful attention to doing right.


In addition to the explicit sexual content I am concerned with bringing the Oankali race to life on screen. I was surprised in my research by the lack of any visual interpretations of what the Oankali may look like, particularly the lack of fan art (I would love to see some). Ms Butler describes the Oankali in painstaking detail—I intend on assembling a top notch team of artists, designers, and scientists together to flesh out the alien look and culture in a way that is true to her vision and fits with contemporary sensibilities.

Are you primarily thinking of this as a cable or digital series? Or do you hope to pitch it to networks?


It’s too early to tell. The most important thing is finding the right home that understands the integrity of the underlying work.

What’s your timeframe here?

We are at the very beginning stages of development, which begins by assembling the right team to help realize the vision. Development can typically take one to two years.


How hard was it to secure the rights to this book, and what kind of assurances did Butler’s estate want?

It was no easy task to secure the rights. It took me several years. I came to the estate with a ‘take’ for the adaptation and a plan to get the project made, they decided to honor me with the rights.


Also, what other properties are you looking at developing?

I started my company with the mission to develop ‘optimistic’ science fiction for the big and small screen. To inspire a better tomorrow. That’s my goal. I can’t say much about upcoming projects, but I am developing a Heinlein piece and a fantastic series from a contemporary sci-fi author. Certainly more news soon.


Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming in January from Tor Books. Follow her on Twitter, and email her. Top image: Octavia Butler cover art by John Jude Palancar.



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First, don’t whitewash all the characters of color.

You were all thinking it.