“Walley-Beckett is part of a new trend that’s changing the face of the period drama by featuring diverse characters in historically accurate storylines.” ~ Deana Sumanac-Johnson, CBC News
ANNE WITH AN E revolutionized historical dramas through its historically accurate portrayal of diversity, and inspires discussions around issues of discrimination and prejudice in the past. The show has been lauded for this contemporary approach, setting a “new standard” for future adaptations.
Even though there are no people of color in L. M. Montgomery’s books, Moira Walley-Beckett wanted to shine a light on marginalized groups often ignored in mainstream media. ANNE WITH AN E is the first adaptation of L.M. Montgomery’s work to include non-white characters.
In the show, Bash visits the Bog, a community outside of Charlottetown principally inhabited by freed slaves. Founded by a former slave, Samuel Martin, between 1812-1814, the Bog was home to the largest black population on Prince Edward Island. Largely overlooked in Canadian history, the writers extensively researched the Bog and Bash’s storyline for historical accuracy.
ANNE WITH AN E highlights the discrimination Canadians of color faced in the nineteenth century, including their limited work prospects and access to essential services.
In season three, ANNE WITH AN E introduced a central storyline revolving around Ka’kwet, a young Mi’kmaq girl, and her family. Ka’kwet’s storyline was extensively researched, and written by Tracey Deer, a Mohawk writer and director, who joined the writers’ room for season three. Through Ka’kwet, ANNE WITH AN E explored the plight of the First Nations peoples and the horrors inflicted on them by the Canadian government. For many international viewers, ANNE WITH AN E was their first introduction to Canadian residential schools and this painful period in history, and the show has inspired them to learn more.
While many TV shows and movies are guilty of white-washing, or otherwise casting racially ambiguous actors to play specifically non-white roles, ANNE WITH AN E required that all of its indigenous characters be played by indigenous actors. ANNE WITH AN E also did not shy away from characters speaking extensively in the Mi’kmaq language, and incorporated Mi’kmaq music into its score.
Season three further developed the character of Jerry Baynard, a young Acadian farmer, and his family. While Jerry (Buote) is mentioned in passing in the books, ANNE WITH AN E makes him a central character, and highlights the prejudices and socioeconomic deprivation Acadians faced in that time period.
Sadly, the stories of ANNE WITH AN E’s diverse characters remain unfinished. Season three left recently-widowed Bash adjusting to a new life on the farm with his daughter, Delphine, mother, Hazel, and Elijah, Mary’s son. Bash and Hazel had recently reached a resolution in their fraught relationship over the revelation that Bash’s father was lynched, and did not run out on his family. Jerry experienced his first love and heartbreak in season three, and ended the season boarding with the Cuthberts at Green Gables. Perhaps most importantly, the last time the audience saw Ka’kwet, she was imprisoned in a residential school after having briefly escaped back to her family. Her parents, Oqwatnuk and Aluk, were last seen camping outside of the school in hopes of reuniting with their daughter. While it would be unrealistic for viewers to expect a happy ending for these characters, the characters, and audience, deserve resolution.
ANNE WITH AN E also features several LGBTQ+ characters. Stay tuned for another post highlighting that representation!