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Here’s Why Netflix’s Shadow and Bone Changed Alina’s Backstory to Make Her Half Shu


Whenever you are adapting something for a new medium, you’re bound to make some changes. After all, what works in a book might not work on the screen, because while it’s easy to write that thousands of demons are chasing our hero, when you’re trying to film that sequence, you might only have the budget for three.

But when it came to adapting Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone book trilogy for Netflix, showrunner Eric Heisserer decided to make one big change for the main character, Alina, and that was to make her half Shu (Asian).

Previously, Bardugo had said she was happy with the decision because it was a way for the series to add more diversity, and even admitted the show would do something better than what she wrote in the books:

“We also talked about how to bring more diversity into play early in the Shadow and Bone narrative. This is something the show can do better than I did. That means some of the characters aren’t going to look the way they were described on the page—and that’s the way it should be.”

Last year, when Shadow and Bone was filming in Budapest, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. During a break in filming, we conducted an interview with Heisserer and he explained why he was excited to make the change to Alina’s backstory:

“I think it was part of the reason why Leigh and I were excited about making Alina, the lead, half Shu, because then we already stepped out with something that was different. We liked the idea that the way she bonded with Mal is that both of them were mixed, and that just carved out a different space for us in the adaptation.”

RELATED: ‘Shadow and Bone’s Jessie Mei Li and Sujaya Dasgupta on the Diversity of the Netflix Series

Shadow and Bone Jessie Mei Li
Image via Netflix

In addition, by making her half Shu, it means she will have been treated with prejudice her entire life because of the way she looks, making her transformation to the most important person in the Kingdom even more dramatic. Heisserer said:

“She’s kind of got a tough gig right out the gate. And then it turns out that she has an ability that can save the entire country. And what does that [do to the] inherent prejudices against her, and how sometimes can she use that to her advantage. Spending a young lifetime trying to blend in and be in the background and not be noticed, and suddenly being in the spotlight 24/7, what can that do to a young woman who’s suddenly the most important person in the entire country.”

Like Bardugo said, I think this change makes the series stronger than the books, and it’s a way for the show to tackle real-world racism under the guise of a fantasy show. Also, anything that adds more diversity and representation is a good thing.

If you’re not familiar with Shadow and Bone, the series actually combines two of Bardugo’s book series – the fantasy-adventure trilogy Shadow and Bone and the duology Six of Crows, which chronologically takes place after the events of Shadow and Bone despite being set in the same world. Heisserer said that in order to make this work they essentially invented prequel stories for the key Six of Crows characters this season — Kaz, Inej, and Jesper — to fit alongside what is happening in the Shadow and Bone storyline.

Shadow and Bone Freddy Carter (Kaz Brekker) Amita Suman (Inej Ghafa) Kit Young
Image via Netflix

Shadow and Bone takes place in a war-torn world where a lowly soldier and orphan named Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) accidentally unleashes an extraordinary power that’s been residing in her that could help save her land and set her country free. What you also need to know about Shadow and Bone is this world has magical soldiers known as Grisha that have different powers, and a massive black cloud (known as the Shadow Fold) that runs hundreds of miles north and south that is extremely dangerous to cross due to the creatures inside. While you can attempt to cross, it’s like playing roulette with your life. Shadow and Bone was produced by Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps Entertainment and also stars Ben Barnes (General Kirigan), Archie Renaux (Malyen Oretsev), Freddy Carter (Kaz Brekker), Amita Suman (Inej Ghafa), Kit Young (Jesper Fahey), Sujaya Dasgupta (Zoya Nazyalensky), Julian Kostov (Fedyor Kaminsky) and Danielle Galligan (Nina Zenik).

Shadow and Bone arrives on Netflix on April 23. Look for more from our set visit soon.

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