“Anne of Green Gables,” the beloved Canadian story about a redheaded outcast finding her way in the world, is set to feature its first-ever black character.
More specifically, the most recent version of the TV show, titled “Anne” (it’s “Anne With an E” stateside), will have a black character in its second season. It premieres this weekend on American Netflix, and in Canada on Sept. 23.
The character, Sebastian Lacroix, will be friends with Gilbert Blythe — Anne Shirley’s longtime buddy and eventual husband — and will be played by Canadian actor Dalmar Abuzeid. Abuzeid is best-known for playing Danny Van Zandt for six seasons on “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”
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“It’s incredible the way I’m being introduced into a story that already has this history and this audience, and that means so much because I get to be part of that story with the new perspective of an Afro-Caribbean in the world of Anne,” Abuzeid said to The Hollywood Reporter.
According to the industry publication, his character originates in Trinidad and eventually arrives in the little town of Avonlea as a labourer.
“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,” said showrunnner Moira Walley-Beckett.
Because of this discomfort, Walley-Beckett made an effort in Season 1 to have Blythe travel abroad and make more diverse friends. Additionally, during the writers’ and producers’ research, they uncovered the history of the Bog, an area of Prince Edward Island’s capital Charlottetown that existed during the mid-late 1800s.
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At that time, the Bog was home to Charlottetown’s black community, a mixture of freed slaves and their descendants.
“We became excited to also include this little-known historic place into our story to explore themes involving, prejudice, intolerance, racism and inclusion,” Walley-Beckett said.
While specifics about the Lacroix character haven’t been revealed, Abuzeid says Sebastian suffers as a black man in a predominantly white province.
“It’s not the stark contrast that Sebastian goes through and will go through in this season,” he said. “I never felt that isolated, but I can understand that feeling.”
The rebooted Anne, based on the 1908 novel series by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was nominated for 10 2018 Canadian Screen Awards, taking home the big Best Drama Series trophy.