The Integral Blackness of AMC’s Interview with the Vampire

In race-swapping Louis and Claudia, this adaptation becomes the best version of Anne Rice's iconic work

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The Integral Blackness of AMC’s Interview with the Vampire

In Anne Rice’s famed novel Interview with the Vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac is a white Louisiana plantation owner who, after meeting Lestat de Lioncourt, is turned into a vampire. AMC’s adaptation changes not only Louis’ backstory but his race as well, which had some fans curling their lips. The change is undoubtedly one of the boldest adaptational changes that the show has made, forcing viewers to confront Louis’ position as not only a Black gay man in the early 1900’s, but a Black gay vampire. 

The series’ version of Louis (Jacob Anderson) is a man surrounded by possibility and wealth,  yet he’s stifled at every turn. Despite making a name for himself in Storyville as the owner of a brothel, Louis’ life is nothing but tragic. Forced to hide his queerness and days with a family who, although they mean well, can’t truly understand this aspect of his life, Louis spends his nights wandering the darkened streets of New Orleans attempting to blend in with the various white businessmen. In comes Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid), a vampire straight off a boat from France who, after meeting Louis one night, decides he needs to make the man his companion. 

With Episode 1, titled “In Throes of Increasing Wonder…,” the show not only crafts one of the best pilots in the history of television, it also showcases Black culture in New Orleans, and how essential this is to Louis’ life. It’s clear here, from Louis being called a slur by a fellow businessman to the familial joy seen at his sister Grace’s (Kalyne Coleman) wedding, that Blackness is not only integral to Louis’ story, but the story this adaptation is trying to tell. But, despite his Blackness, his queerness forces him to be at odds with his family, which he so desperately holds dear. This is where Lestat begins to break down his walls, calling upon him while Louis is attending his brother Paul’s (Steven G. Norfleet) funeral. 

After slaughtering two priests in front of Louis, he draws the man in by saying “this country had picked you clean,” and promising that, as a vampire, he will only know power in a country that so desperately tries to subjugate him. The other wealthy business owners attempt to strike down Louis’ self confidence with every sly dig they throw this way, and despite the prominence of his business, it becomes clear that no matter what Louis does, they will never allow him to be one of them. And if even wealth cannot save him, perhaps being turned into a night dwelling all powerful creature can. By finding him on a night where he’s his most indisposed, Lestat’s promise of a better life takes hold, and Louis can only kiss the man in acceptance. 

Something that both the men didn’t consider in this moment—Louis due to his grief and Lestat due to his ignorance—is that, despite the fact that their vampirism and queerness has brought them together, they still will never be equals due to their difference in race. It quickly becomes apparent that Lestat’s sprawling monologue may have held some truth to it, but he neither cares nor wants to understand Louis’ relationship to Blackness on a level that is more than one-dimensional. Lestat constantly calls Louis a  “fledgling,” even screaming the term at him after Louis loses control of his anger—and hunger—resulting in him killing an important man in town. While his concerns are justified, Louis tells him the term fledgling “is starting to sound a lot like ‘slave.’” 

Like many times they argue, Lestat blows him off with a flip of his hair and a roll of his eyes, unable to see how Louis could feel like Lestat’s rigid rules imply a power imbalance between them. Again, it is an example of Lestat having no true empathy for Louis’ struggles, beyond how he’s seen by the white men he often does business with. Lestat is incapable of understanding that, beneath his confident swagger, Louis is ultimately a gay Black man who has three decades of trauma to shed. Pairing this volatile psyche with an eternal life, one where he slowly watches his family and friends age and die without him, was bound to go south sooner or later. 

When Louis kills his business associate Alderman Fenwick (John DiMaggio) after the man leads the charge to push Louis and other Black owners out of Storyville, Louis responds in the only way a vampire could. After the deed is done, and Fenwick’s mutilated corpse is staged in public for all to see, Lestat looks at his lover hungrily and says “we should make this our anniversary.” He sees the act as only Louis succumbing to his true vampire nature, rather than him retaliating after a lifetime of microaggressions and violence being done to not only him, but the community he’s a part of. 

This continues as their relationship grows, and interviewer Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogostain), who Louis is recounting these moments to, picks up on this: “White master, Black student, but together in the quiet dark.” It appears that present day Louis has become increasingly unaware of the power imbalances that once existed between him and Lestat, even going so far as to make excuses for his lover’s increasingly growing temper. The version of Louis who currently resides in Dubai is a man who has shed not only his grievances with Lestat but the spark that made him truly care about his family, the people of Storyville, and in turn builds a broken bridge between him and his Blackness.

The murder of Fenwick leads to the white citizens of New Orleans setting fire to Storyville, and Louis is forced to save and beg Lestat to change a young girl, Claudia (played by Bailey Bass in Season 1, with Delainey Hayles taking up the role in the upcoming second season). With Claudia now in the picture, it appears that the tether to Louis’ culture and community might be able to snap back. In the novel, Louis feeds off of Claudia, but then Lestat turns her as a means to baby-trap him. Instead, the show uses Louis’ actions against the racists who have wronged him as the catalyst for her coming into their lives, allowing them to become tethered to each other right at the beginning of their relationship. Saving Claudia becomes a way for Louis to prove to himself that deep down, under the fangs and cat-like eyes, he is still capable of being a good person.

In becoming a vampire and being shackled up with Lestat, Louis didn’t just lose his humanity, he lost an essential part of his identity as well. Now, after years of feeling alone, he is finally able to share that bond with someone else. Claudia is not only a bandage for the relationship between Louis and Lestat, but also a means for Louis to have someone who looks like him in his corner. They communicate through their thoughts without Lestat hearing—as he is their maker and can no longer communicate with them telepathically—akin to how Black people have fostered culture and communication separate to the bounds of white people in real life. 

They share glances without speaking, and when they do speak, they’re able to do it without their white counterpart hearing. This leads to a stronger bond between them, but also directly causes Lestat to now feel ostracized. This ostracization leads to a fracturing in the family they’ve created, and soon unfolds into the most heightened drama this adaptation has to offer. With Claudia now in the picture, Lestat sees her as a challenge, forcing Louis’ attention away from him as he takes the reins as Claudia’s father. He can teach her things about the community they reside in that Lestat is incapable of, and also guides her through her newfound vampirism in a more delicate way than Lestat granted him. 

Under Lestat’s watchful eye, the two find a solace in each other because of their physical similarities, despite the fact that their personalities couldn’t be any more different. By making Louis a Black man in this adaptation, the bond between him and Claudia becomes much more integral to understanding Louis as a character. Vampirism for him birthed an identity crisis larger than the one he was already going through, and finally he has someone to share this misery with. While Claudia wears her fangs proudly like Lestat, she is more empathetic to the plights Louis has faced throughout his life.

Louis’ race is an intrinsic part of this adaptation of Interview with the Vampire, and it enriches Anne Rice’s work in a way that frankly, the film adaptation was incapable of. Instead of the on-screen equivalent to watching paint dry, Jacob Anderson allows Louis to unfold into one of the best protagonists put to screen in years. Eternal life, while undeniably alluring, is incapable of shedding the trauma Louis faced in the 30-some years before Lestat arrived, and in this adaptation, it takes root within him like a parasite. It fundamentally changes this character’s motivations while still keeping Rice’s groundwork present, sprawling into a dark tale of belonging and humanity. By making Louis a Black man, and later a Black vampire, the writers have given Anderson and the show’s dedicated viewers something worthwhile to sink their teeth into. 

Kaiya Shunyata is a freelance pop culture writer and academic based in Toronto. They have written for, Xtra, The Daily Dot, and more. You can follow them on Twitter, where they gab about film, queer subtext, and television.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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