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Anne of Green Gables has unveiled its first-ever black character, Sebastian, to be played by Canadian actor Dalmar Abuzeid, who joins the Netflix series, Anne With an E, in its second season, set to premiere Friday.
The addition of an Afro-Caribbean character is a watershed moment for a series that is more than just a popular TV drama. Anne With an E, which also airs on Canada’s CBC, is a cultural phenomenon based on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel about a fiery red-headed orphan in rural Prince Edward Island that has seen several earlier adaptations, including movies, TV shows, stage plays and theme parks.
“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 told The Hollywood Reporter.
His character, Sebastian Lacroix, is originally from Trinidad and arrives in fictional Avonlea as a manual laborer who stokes coal in the engine room of a steamship. Sebastian is introduced as a friend of Gilbert Blythe, the love interest of Anne Shirley, played by Amybeth McNulty.
Anne With an E creator and showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett said she deliberately made her dark Anne of Green Gables reboot more multicultural for its second season. “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,” she said.
So Walley-Beckett and her all-female writers room had Gilbert Blythe, played by 20th Century Women star Lucas Jade Zumann, travel abroad at the end of the first season and make friends with people from other cultures. And the idea of an Afro-Caribbean character emerged after research revealed Charlottetown, PEI, at one time had a mid-to-late 1800s neighborhood, The Bog, where the city’s marginalized black community lived.
“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. Abuzeid added the impact of his character helping update a classic Canadian story with diversity is only now setting in as the second season gets set to launch.
“I auditioned last year, and I just didn’t think about that fact when I was shooting the show. And that helped me focus on the story I had to tell, and the journey my character Sebastian was on,” he added. Anne With an E centers on a young orphaned girl in 1890 who, after an abusive childhood spent in orphanages and the homes of strangers, is mistakenly sent to live with an elderly spinster and her aging brother.
Over time, 13-year-old Anne transforms their lives and eventually the small town in which they live with her spirit, intellect and imagination. Abuzeid is best known for playing the role of Danny Van Zandt over six seasons of the teen soap Degrassi: The Next Generation, which also streams on Netflix.
He also did guest arcs on DirecTV’s Condor and WGN America’s Shoot the Messenger. Abuzeid said he grew up in multicultural Toronto, but can still empathize with his character Sebastian feeling on his own in fictional Avonlea because no one else looks like him.
“It does resonate. I can understand that feeling of feeling like I stand out. I’ve had situations like that in my life, where I’ve been in places where I feel like I stand out. I feel like I’m not the color of everyone around me,” he explained.
“But it’s not the stark contrast that Sebastian goes through and will go through in this season. I never felt that isolated, but I can understand that feeling,” Abuzeid added.
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