TORONTO – As “Anne with an E”‘s plucky protagonist embarks on more Prince Edward Island adventures in season 2, some new faces enter the picture, adding a sense of inclusivity and diversity to her world of wonder.
In the new batch of episodes that begin Sunday on CBC-TV as well as its streaming app and cbc.ca/watch, fans will see the show’s first black character as well as an LGBTQ storyline.
Such elements were never a part of the Canadian novel “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which inspired the show.
But as showrunner/creator Moira Walley-Beckett notes, the CBC/Netflix series has always strayed from the source material while still staying true to the essence of Anne.
“It’s always been a concern to me that L.M. Montgomery’s world of Avonlea is such a white world when in fact it doesn’t really accurately reflect the diversity that Canada was and is,” Walley-Beckett, a three-time Emmy Award winner, said in a recent phone interview.
“So my master plan from the beginning when I first conceived this series was to find a way to genuinely and legitimately reflect the diversity of the nation.”
Season 2 will further explore the queer storyline surrounding Aunt Josephine Barry that was lightly touched on in season 1 and will introduce Anne’s new friend Cole, played by Cory Gruter-Andrew.
Cole, who is questioning his identity and bullied at school, bonds with Anne over feeling like an outsider.
“I added the character of Cole because so many kids are exploring their identity and it’s such a ripe time of confusion and difficulty and isolation in school,” Walley-Beckett said.
“And I wanted to represent that, that which is true — in the world, in that time period or any time period.”
Gruter-Andrew feels the Cole storyline is “pushing some really important messages with it.”
“Playing a character like Cole, it means so much to me. There’s an amazing sense of nervous responsibility in a very good way,” said Gruter-Andrew, 17, who lives in Vancouver.
“It just feels really good to be able to represent those who feel like they might not be heard or who are going through the same things that Cole is going through and being able to relate to Cole.”
Meanwhile, Anne’s schoolmate Gilbert is working on a steamship alongside Sebastian, a Trinidadian sailor, played by Canadian actor Dalmar Abuzeid.
Walley-Beckett said she wanted to put Gilbert on the steamship in order for him to have a bigger perspective of the world.
In researching about Canada and P.E.I. in the Victorian era, Walley-Beckett and her team discovered the Bog, which was a community just outside of Charlottetown mostly populated by freed slaves and immigrants.
“It’s not really taught in schools and most people don’t know about it and we determined that we absolutely wanted to make it part of our story,” she said, “and it’s been really relevant to our story and really cool to bring it to life with historical accuracy.”
Walley-Beckett said she tried to make the Sebastian storyline as historically accurate as possible and hired Shernold Edwards, whose family is from Trinidad, to help write it.
“There’s an opportunity to provide a platform for greater conversations,” said Walley-Beckett, who has an all-female writers room that is diverse in terms of race and sexuality.
“It’s exciting to me to think that multi-generations of families are going to sit down and discuss this subject matter, and that it’s being presented in an accessible way full of kindness and forgiveness and empathy and compassion.”