[Anita E. Siraki is a librarian and independent scholar. She specialized in Book History and Print Culture at the University of Toronto where she examined mid-19th century American female authors focusing on Harriet Beecher Stowe and the popularity of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. As Webmaster for the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies at the EJ Pratt Library, she participated in several digitization projects. In addition, she is a reviewer for Booklist, Library Journal and other trade publications. She is a past recipient of the George H. Locke Memorial Scholarship from the Toronto Public Library in recognition of service in public libraries and high academic standing.]
A Critical Look at the Time Period Change in the upcoming Interview with the Vampire Television Adaptation
The debut of the long-awaited television series adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is set to take place on October 2, 2022. Fans have been chewing on hints and other teasers throughout the year so far. The full-length trailer for the series that aired at the San Diego Comic-Con festival offered a more substantive look at what’s to come. In particular, the announcement of casting the mixed-race actor Jacob Anderson in the role of Louis de Pointe du Lac garnered a lot of buzz.
[Source: Jacob Anderson as Louis de Pointe du Lac; via Tumblr.]
Unfortunately, the announcement was also met with an onslaught of the horridly predictable phenomenon of racist and bigoted trolls getting angry. Any time an actor of colour is cast in a role, particularly in a literary adaptation in which a character is white, there is a vitriolic response. It happened several times over the course of the series The Vampire Diaries, with Katerina Graham, a biracial actress, in the role of Bonnie Bennett who was white in the L.J. Smith books. It also happened when Noma Dumezweni was cast in the the part of an adult Hermione Granger in the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The mega-popular series creator JK Rowling has become very problematic since then for other reasons. Nonetheless, she defended that casting of a Black actress in the role.
Before the release of the Interview trailer at Comic-Con, I wrote a post arguing that the casting of a mixed-race actor, Jacob Anderson, in the role of Louis made a lot more sense than viewers and fans might think. I wasn’t sure at the time if this television adaptation would stick to the 1790s as a timeline, as with the original novel and the 1994 film adaptation starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. I’ll soon get to my revised views after having watched the trailer. In the meantime, for those who need a refresher, the Louis de Pointe du Lac in Rice’s novels is a white male of Western European French ancestry. His family owns indigo plantations in the 1790s outside of New Orleans. When Louis’s father dies, he becomes the man of the house and needs to look after his brother, sister, and mother. He doesn’t talk a lot about how this means that he has become an enslaver, and that he has inherited his father’s property. In addition to the buildings such as the Big House mansion, he also became the new owner of the enslaved people of African descent that his father owned.
With the 1994 film adaptation, there’s no question that the roles of Lestat the vampire and Louis would be played by anyone other than white men--and in this case, pretty much the leading white men in Hollywood at the time. Although Rice expressed outrage at Cruise’s casting, she later retracted her statements when she viewed his performance. Since the film adaptation, the film and movie industries have changed drastically. A recent phenomenon that critics argue against is the use of diversity casting, in which a Black or non-white actor is cast in a role simply for the sake of making the show appear diverse rather than more meaningful reasons. I don’t think that’s what has happened here with Anderson, who is a gifted actor in his own right.
But as the trailer for the television adaptation establishes, we’re not in 1790s Louisiana anymore.
We’re in 1910 in New Orleans in a completely different age and era.
When I first saw that, my reaction was one of interest, because like most fans, I expected that the showrunners would stick to the landscape of the 1790s. Owing to that, I was curious as to how they would handle the fact that a mixed-race, light-skinned Black man is a plantation owner. It’s possible that one of the reasons for switching timelines may be to allow the show to dodge that scenario altogether. Having said that, I also think that it could just as easily be a situation in which the folks behind the AMC adaptation chose 1910 as a primary timeline to make this fresh and different. They want to ensure that this is not just a remake of the existing 1994 version, and to have a television adaptation that stands on its own. It could be any number of different things, or a combination of reasons for why this re-telling of the Interview story is set away from the 1790s and carving out its own space. However, I think it’s worth noting that the producers and creatives behind the show may have felt that it would be too confusing to viewers to have to explain why someone other than a white man was an enslaver. Unless people have read extensively on the subject or have a family history, most folks will not know that free people of colour in the South owned enslaved people of African descent (in some cases, their own family members.) For more on this, I highly encourage people to read Beyond Slavery’s Shadow by Dr. Warren Milteer Jr.
In the award-winning landmark book, They Were Her Property, scholar Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers directly refutes the popularly held belief that only white men were enslavers or that plantation mistresses busied themselves with crocheting and planning social events, but little else. In the book, Jones-Rogers also showcases the many instances of people of colour who owned enslaved people of African descent. Although in some cases, a free person of colour might have purchased one of their own relatives as a way of manumitting or freeing them, in other cases, they did not have any ethical dilemmas or hesitation about subjecting their own family members to chattel slavery.
Regardless of the reasons for switching the timeline of the Interview with the Vampire adaptation from AMC from the 1790s and indigo plantations to the glitz and glam of early 1900s New Orleans, hopefully fans will have something worthwhile to sink our teeth into.
Cotter, Padraig. “Why Anne Rice Hated Tom Cruise’s Interview With The Vampire Casting.” Screen Rant. July 23, 2022. https://screenrant.com/interview-vampire-anne-rice-tom-cruise-lestat-casting-hate/#:~:text=Rice%20Hated%20Cruise's%20Interview%20Casting,a%20boycott%20against%20the%20star.
Harper, Stephanie. “The Truth about Kat Graham’s Time Filming ‘The Vampire Diaries’.” Black Girl Nerds. Accessed September 9, 2022. https://blackgirlnerds.com/the-truth-about-kat-grahams-time-filming-the-vampire-diaries/
Jones-Rogers, Stephanie E.. They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019.
Lewis, Andy. “J.K. Rowling Defends Casting Black Actress as Hermione in ‘Harry Potter’ Play.” December 21, 2015. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-features/black-hermione-controversy-jk-rowling-850458/
Milteer, Warren E. Beyond Slavery’s Shadow : Free People of Color in the South. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2021.
Neidenbach, ELizabeth Clark. “Free People of Color.” 64 Parishes. April 28, 2011. https://64parishes.org/entry/free-people-of-color
Siraki, Anita E. “Why the Casting of a Mixed-Race Actor for Louis in Interview is More Historically Accurate Than You Think.” Anita E. Siraki, Library Professional. April 23, 2022.
Speaks, Angie. “When Diversity Casting Hurts the Plot, It Hurts Black Actors—and Viewers | Opinion.” Newsweek. August 25, 2022. https://www.newsweek.com/when-diversity-casting-hurts-plot-it-hurts-black-actors-viewers-opinion-1736903
Weekes, Princess. “What Does It Mean to Have a Black Louis in Interview With the Vampire?” The Mary Sue. August 26, 2021. https://www.themarysue.com/black-louis-meaning-interview-with-the-vampire/
Westenfeld, Adrienne. “Interview with the Vampire Looks Sensuous and Bloody.” Esquire Magazine. September 9, 2022. https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a37090376/everything-we-know-about-interview-with-the-vampire-tv-reboot/