Film and TV adaptations of novels have always remained popular with the masses. In recent times, however, adaptations have evolved to suit modern sensibilities and issues. One such impressive adaptation is Anne With An E, based on the timeless classic Anne of Green Gables written by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
While the show retained most of the essential characters and storylines, it also introduced new characters and themes such as sexism, LGBTQ+ discrimination, racism, and feminism through Anne’s adventures in Avonlea.
For instance, in season 2, the show featured two LGBTQ+ characters and also explored the friendship between Bash, a native from Trinidad, and Gilbert, Anne’s school rival and eventual love interest. Creator Moira Walley-Beckett emphasized the importance of this representation and stated that, “When I was first conceiving Anne With an E, I was troubled by the lack of diversity in the book, especially since Canada is such a diverse nation, both then and now.”
In season 3, the story took a bleak turn and dived into the dark parts of Canadian history — the Indian residential schools. In the first episode, Anne is shown to befriend a young Native called Ka’kwet while the rest of Avonlea is wary of the so-called “savages.” Ka’kwet’s family is convinced to send her to the residential school in hopes of a better education. However, she is forced to adopt a Christian name, cut her hair and speak only English, all under the guise of civilization.
In one harrowing scene, Anne visits the school where the nun greets her while choir practice is in session. Though she is forbidden to see Ka’kwet, she unwittingly remarks on the joys of hearing the choir, proclaiming that “singing is a great fortifier of the spirit.” The camera then shows Ka’kwet and the children singing desolately, with a vacant gaze reflecting their broken spirits.
From a representation standpoint, the series achieved a great milestone where the characters were portrayed by Indigenous actors and actresses who had the opportunity to narrate their story on a global platform. It also allowed an accurate depiction of the trauma faced by the children as they essentially lost their sense of identity and culture, the repercussions of which are felt even today.
Unfortunately, the show was cancelled before it could further expand this storyline and Ka’kwet’s story is left on a cliffhanger. However, it isn’t hard to imagine the outcome and sadly, it isn’t one that guarantees a happy ending.
Nevertheless, the journey of Ka’kwet opened up a whole new conversation as a vast majority of viewers revealed their lack of awareness and shock on the issue. Many also expressed their eagerness to learn more about the residential schools. It only proves to show that in understanding issues of white supremacy and racism, awareness, representation, and education can go a long way.