Hawaiian Family Drama From Viola Davis, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen Set at ABC (Exclusive)

Former Time journalist Lisa Takeuchi Cullen will write ''Ohana,' based on Kiana Davenport's 1994 novel 'Shark Dialogues.'
Matt Dine; Courtesy of Plume
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

ABC is headed back to Hawaii.

The network is teaming with Viola Davis and Julius Tennon's JuVee Productions to develop the hourlong drama 'Ohana. The potential series is based on Kiana Davenport's 1994 novel Shark Dialogues and follows four hapa women who reunite when their grandmother, a mystic known as a kahuna, dies mysteriously and leaves them the family plantation.

Former Time staff writer and foreign correspondent Lisa Takeuchi Cullen will pen the adaptation.

"So many Hawaii-set stories have been told from the white point of view," Cullen tells The Hollywood Reporter. "This is a story we're passionate about telling from the point of view of native Hawaiians — Pacific Islanders, people of Asian descent and people of hapa heritage."

Each of the four protagonists is of a different mixed ethnicity — half-white, half-Japanese, half-Filipino and half-black — and their unexpected shared inheritance will force them to overcome years of jealousies, misunderstandings, resentments and secrets.

"'Ohana is Hawaiian for 'family,' and that is a big part of who we are and what we want JuVee to support: embracing cultures and points of view from all over the world and showing that we all can relate and connect to each other," Tennon and Davis, who are married, said in a joint statement.

The deal comes as Crazy Rich Asians' $35 million five-day opening has provided the comp needed to prove the marketability of Asian-American stories. Cullen says she referenced the Warner Bros. film in her pitch, and it was sold the day Crazy Rich Asians opened.

"The landscape has shifted dramatically in the last 12 months, and maybe in the last week," she says, adding that she was recently pitched a different idea from a producer who told her, "I would be very open to [the protagonist] being cast with an Asian-American actor, because I think Crazy Rich Asians is going to be the biggest movie this year, and there's going to be a huge demand."

"At JuVee, we're passionate about compelling stories with diverse perspectives, told by diverse voices like Kiana and Lisa, so this project is a perfect fit," says Andrew Wang, head of TV for JuVee, which has an overall deal with ABC Studios.

JuVee Productions is repped by CAA and The Lasher Group. Cullen is repped by WME and manager A.B. Fischer at Literate Inc.