"American Gods" committed an unnecessary diversity fail.
American Gods, the TV show based on Neil Gaiman's award-winning novel of the same name, premiered in 2017.
At the beginning, the show focused on Shadow Moon (played by Ricky Whittle) who was recently released from prison. Shadow is quickly pulled down a rabbit hole of bizarre experiences thanks to Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), who we later discover is the Germanic mythological god Odin. Mr. Wednesday is trying to build an army of "old gods" to pit against the "new gods," and he enlists Shadow's help. The new gods are Mr. World a.k.a. globalization (Chirpin Glover), Media (Gillian Anderson)—who is replaced by New Media in season two (Kahyun Kim)—and Technical Boy (Bruce Langley).
Odin/Mr. Wednesday, with his bodyguard Shadow in tow, embarks on a cross-country journey to recruit gods he personally knows to fight against the new gods to gain back the faith and worship of the masses. Odin recruits the Slavic god of "darkness and evil," Czernobog (Peter Stormare), Hindu goddess Kali/Mama-Ji (Sakina Jaffrey), he Pagan goddess of Easter, Ostara (Kristin Chenoweth), and many more. Also on his team is a character from West African folklore, Anansi, who in the material world is known as Mr. Nancy, played by Orlando Jones.
Anansi (pronounced uh-naan-see) is a storyteller and a prominent character in season two (with few scenes in season one). On December 14, 2019, Orlando Jones took to the Internet to reveal that he was let go from the show in September and would not be returning for season three.
Fans of the show were (and still are) outraged. Since he was one of the few characters of color that appeared in season one and two, fans of Anansi/Mr. Nancy were confused as to why the showrunners would make their show less diverse. During an exclusive one-hour interview with The Blerd Gurl podcast, Jones explained the full timeline that led to his firing.
The Removal of Anansi
Jones detailed conversations he had with the new showrunner, Charles (Chic) Eglee (the third showrunner thus far), who felt that the Anansi character was "not good for Black America." For those unfamiliar with Anansi in the show, the West African god made a powerful first appearance in season one, episode two. We meet Anansi on a slave ship, where he first says his mantra, "Angry gets shit done," which urges the captive Africans on board to burn down the ship transporting them to America.
However, the scene that created waves was in episode four, season two, in which Anansi made a speech stating that "slavery is a cult." In this conversation, Anansi, goddess Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), and Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) discuss the current state of Black people in America and the global epidemic of human trafficking of Black and brown bodies. According to the new showrunner, this scene (and the overall "angry gets shit done" perspective Anansi maintains throughout the show) was not what Black America needed in the current political climate.
During The Blerd Girl interview, Jones even recounts hearing that Eglee (a white man) said to other executives that he "writes from a Black male perspective" better than Jones himself.
While this is already a solid slap in the face, it's particularly offensive given the minimization (and frequent nonexistence) of traditionally Black faiths and beliefs in shows and movies. Anansi was one of the few Black characters in mainstream television centered around spirituality and religion as he discussed the Black experience in a real and raw manner. As Jones explained in his interview with Blerd Gurl, fans flooded his DMs with messages telling him how important the Anansi character was to the landscape of television and what it meant for them to see that kind of representation.
During the TCA tour earlier this month (Jan. 7-19), Starz network president and CEO Jeffrey Hirsch addressed the situation with Jones, simply stating, "Orlando [Jones] is a tremendous talent and is a great actor and person. The book is rich in story and [Mr. Nancy] doesn't have a prominent role in the story… that's where we are."
Hircsh also added, "Chic and the team decided to be in [an] area where Mr. Nancy doesn't play a prominent role, so that's where we are." This blanket statement, while extremely diplomatic, entirely ignores Eglee's previous statements.
The State of (and Demand for) Black Spiritual Representation
Given the current uptick in themes of spirituality and faith in popular shows (CC: Good Omen, The Chilling Tales of Sabrina The Teenage Witch, October Faction, The Path, and even SYFY's The Magicians), it is a terrible move to remove important Black representation.
While we know shows take creative liberties regularly, it would make sense within the world of American Gods to include a character that speaks for the Black experience with urgency. Referring back to the aforementioned mortuary scene between Anansi, Bilquis and Mr. Ibis, what makes the scene powerful is seeing three Black actors portraying African gods and goddesses having a conversation about current Black America. This moment of thoughtful representation was applauded by viewers of all backgrounds, but it fell on (tone) deaf ears when it came to the current showrunner.
In a media climate where diversity is praised but not fairly executed, keeping the character of Anansi could have been a slam dunk for a show that sees trouble in the writers' room and prominent characters exit (or suddenly let go) for unexplained reasons.
In a wider sense, there have been limited examples of people of color in the mystical and spiritual space as it relates to popular shows and movies. We can point out Rachel True as Rochelle in The Craft, Jasmine Guy as Sheila Bennett in The Vampire Diaries, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau in American Horror Story: Coven, and more recently Tati Gabrielle as Prudence Blackwood in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Because of this lack of diversity and open call for more relatable characters, we turn to shows from independent filmmakers. Web series such as Juju Web Series, created by director and screenwriter Moon Ferguson, have a growing fanbase consisting of those looking for binge-worthy shows with mystical Black and brown representation. On the creation of Juju, Ferguson writes, "I wanted to experience supernatural beings who look like me. Blacks and People of Color are very underrepresented in the fantasy genre. I think it's time to start writing our stories in the fantasy realm. We are long overdue for Black witches, vampires, werewolves, sirens, soothsayers, fauns, etc. We hold an abundance of history which includes magic stemming back to Africa."
The Future of American Gods
During the TCA tour, Hirsch did mention that Anansi is not prominent in the chapters that the show is covering from the original novel. However, Anansi is relevant in later chapters (if sticking to the canon is really that important).
American Gods' third season is currently set for a 2020 release date, which will see the debut of the standard 10 new episodes. With all the changes in actors, debacles in the writers' room, and overall drama surrounding the show, is it even worth watching? The world will have to wait and see.
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The playwright and AIDS activist died at 84.
Larry Kramer, AIDS activist and artist, passed away today at 84.
Kramer was known for his books Faggots and The American People, as well as climate-changing plays like The Normal Heart. His close friend and literary executor, William Schwalbe, told CNN that Kramer died of pneumonia."Larry made a huge contribution to our world as an activist but also as a writer," said Schwalbe, who had known Kramer for 57 years. "I believe that his plays and novels, from 'The Normal Heart' to 'The American People' will more than stand the test of time."
American Gods: How Keanu Reeves, Nicolas Cage, and Neil Gaiman Became the Internet’s Most Beloved Men
Though they've had rather different careers, each of these men has become something of an Internet darling in the #MeToo era.
Nicolas Cage and Keanu Reeves are very different celebrities.
Reeves is the shockingly down-to-earth crown prince of the #MeToo era, a title he earned due to his habit of not touching women in photographs. On the other hand, Cage is an insane person who once bought a dinosaur skull for $276,000, and who practices a form of acting based in ancient magic, which he has coined "nouveau shamanic." Still, they both have one main thing in common: They've become darlings of the Internet age.
Keanu had a moment in 2019, to say the absolute least. Over the past few months, the Internet has exploded with love for everyone's favorite Matrix hacker, who seems to have discovered some key to being a decent person that the rest of the male species are still searching for. Because of his recent radically weird New York Times interview, though, Cage seems to be a potential threat to Reeves' position as the Internet's resident king, as does Twitter's latest object of sudden adoration: Neil Gaiman.
Keanu Reeves, Nicolas Cage, and the Age of the Genuine Movie Star
Let's begin by focusing on Reeves and Cage. On a fundamental level, these two are similar because they both represent a kind of radical genuineness that stands in stark contrast to the depressing cynicism that has defined the online world in recent years. "I have gone out of my way not to be ironic and — with the risk of looking ridiculous — to be genuinely emotionally naked," Cage told The Times. And it's true: There's something decidedly unabashed about the way that Cage has conducted himself during his decades-long career, from his roles in Fast Times at Ridgemont High to On Air to Mandy.
Then there's the fact that both Cage and Reeves have been subjects of lists about the nice things they have done (Cage has inspired far less than Reeves, but still, he has donated millions of dollars). Yet, Cage and Reeves are polar opposites on the spectrum of genuineness, with Reeves soaring high above Cage in terms of untouchable, pure goodness. If Reeves is a benevolent god, then Cage may be his antagonistic demon companion.
Either way, they both seem to exist outside or above the glitchy reality of the digital era. Having transcended jadedness, having shed the heavy skin of irony and detachment, they instead occupy a fatherly and almost godlike space in many of our hearts, embodying an openhearted authenticity—a quality that, despite its hackneyed and fraught nature, perhaps we're all subconsciously seeking.
After all, so many of our icons and leaders have fallen over the past few years, revealing themselves to be perverted or slimy con men, and in an age when faith in Hollywood's leading men is receding as quickly as their hairlines, any person who reinvigorates our faith in the human race feels refreshing. If Keanu Reeves was a cool drink of water to wash away the bad taste left by the likes of Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein, then Nick Cage is a burst of spiked, ice-cold Kool-Aid: searing, sweet, and dazzlingly colored, he's still a fundamentally escapist beverage.
Coincidental Parallels, or Something More?
The two actors have been linked for a long time. Besides both being born in 1964, another truth that unites Reeves and Cage is the simple fact that neither is a great actor. In their mediocrity, they have still managed to become infamous.
Actually, the subject of whether or not Reeves is a good actor is a very popular topic of debate. When a reader wrote to The New York Times in 2011 asking if Keanu Reeves was a "good bad actor or a bad good actor." The film critics' answer: Neither. "He's Keanu Reeves, dude, and an excellent movie star, blessed with a beautiful blank quality that lends itself to our projections and helps explain why he's been a go-to savior," they wrote. That comment in itself might help explain some of Reeves' (and Cages') allure: In their own way, they're both blank slates, open to our projections. Cage is just more open to bizarre, dramatic kinds of projections.
Regardless, they're both canvases, in the sense that they seem to exist outside of the perpetually broadcasted, glamorous, and hyper-social sphere of Los Angeles, social media, and their drug-addled parties and endlessly flickering screens. When Cage told The Times about what he really wants to do with his days, it certainly wasn't about going to parties or leveraging his brand. "I don't want to go anywhere," he said. "I just want to look at my aquarium, look at my sea horse, read my Murakami, watch Bergman." That interview alone was enough to get him trending on Twitter.
Similarly, Reeves is famously introverted, and as Shia LaBoeuf said once, "I don't think he hangs out with other humans that much." Mysterious yet genuine, these two actors float about in a unique space that makes them perfect templates for the meme era. At the same time, they're escapes from the tsunamis of the Internet's ceaseless rage.
If you start digging, the parallels seem endless. Certain people on the Internet have suggested that Cage and Reeves (along with John Travolta) are secretly immortal vampires, due to their resemblance to certain historical figures and their apparent resistance to aging. When asked about the immortality theory, Reeves didn't even deny it: Instead, he told Jimmy Fallon, "We're all stardust, baby" (Classic Keanu!).
Keanu Reeves Almost Changed His Name to Chuck Spadina www.youtube.com
Another 21st-Century Hero Emerges: Neil Gaiman
As of August 8, just a day after Cage's most recent moment on Twitter, another famous person has taken his place as the number one trending topic: Neil Gaiman, the lovable author of books such as American Gods, Good Omens, and Neverwhere. Though Gaiman is not a movie star, he's a well-known and widely beloved Internet personality. Most of the Tweets about Gaiman go something like this: "I was so scared when I saw that Neil Gaiman was trending, but then I realized that it's just because he's a great author and a great guy."
Gaiman's American Gods was a lamentation about technology and the godlessness of the modern era. Though not without its flaws, it helped to encourage a rise in polytheism and even encouraged some of the neo-Paganism that has been propelled to the fore in recent times.
In short, Gaiman, like Reeves, is a man whose work seems to exist outside of the media's simulacrum, outside of the crushing reality of #MeToo, and even—perhaps most importantly—the obliterative voracity of late capitalism. Interestingly, Gaiman's Neverwhere presents a Matrix-like scenario wherein the visible world is underlaid by a massive, secret underground realm; and a lot of his work, in general, involves tapping into secret otherworlds that lie just beyond our own.
In 2019, when the visible world so frequently feels unbearable and unsustainable—burdened with shootings and climate crisis reports as it is—perhaps we're all looking for someone who can lead us out of the fog and towards the truth. We're all seeking a world where people can be trending because of how good they are—not how astoundingly evil or rich (or, usually, both). At the very least, we're seeking hope, and we want proof that there are some positive male role models in existence for our sons. In Gaiman's imaginativeness, in Reeves' unpretentiousness, and even in Cage's freakish charm, perhaps we sense something that touches on the sublime.
Breaking the Internet: Vampires, Neo, and Gods, Oh My!
So, what is it about these men that makes it seem like they're immortal, know something we don't, or hold the key to shattering the whole simulation? Is there something about each of their pixelated presences that implies they can help us escape the ever-tightening hold that technology and culture have around our necks?
In the era of Area 51 conspiracies and fake news, Reeves, Cage, and Gaiman seem like obvious choices for Internet darlings. Tellingly, Cage was actually offered the part of Neo in The Matrix but turned it down because he didn't want to film in Australia. The casting directors of The Matrix obviously saw Cage as a character capable of playing someone like Neo, someone who could break down the world's conspiracies, and it seems that Twitter does as well. (Another role Cage turned down: Mr. Wednesday, one of two leading roles on the Starz adaption of American Gods).
While Gaiman might have few exact parallels to Reeve and Cage, he definitely occupies the same cultural territory as they do, filling Twitter and online blogs with merited adoration that surges up suddenly, often in conjunction with cultural upheaval or tragedy.
Perhaps there is also an element of sexism at play in the growing movement that is Reeves and Cage and adoration in particular. Apparently, men can be deified simply for not assaulting women and for not being horrible, capital-obsessed people.
On the other hand, both seem to transcend the gender binary somehow, be it via the bottomless well of kindness that Keanu Reeves seems to possess or the endless spring of hysteria and madness from which Nicolas Cage seems to spew unironically. And of course, Neil Gaiman's Good Omens has also become a popular projection screen for queer fantasies, as the devil and angel stars of that show have a clearly loving relationship that also exists outside of time and gender.
In the end, there's a definite mystical component to our collective online obsession with Nick Cage, Keanu Reeves, and Neil Gaiman. In June, The New Yorker published an article called "Keanu Reeves Is Too Good For This World" that ended with the author relaying some of the positive experiences she had with Keanu. She concluded with the sentiment: "These moments aren't much, but I keep them close, picking them up every once in a while, the way you would a crystal or an amulet."
Cage, of course, is Marianne Williamson-level mystical. In his recent interview with The Times, he spoke extensively about his search to find a very literal "Holy Grail." He's also been embroiled in countless, ever-stranger schemes; there was the time his cat ate his shrooms on accident, and then he took some to keep it company; there was the time he was stalked by a mime, and of course there's his decision to be buried in a pyramid in New Orleans when or if he ever dies.
In short, all of them embody something of a different world, a world that seems more like a fantasy with each passing day. They are men who are non-toxic while possessing none of the sniveling, loaded traits of the "nice guy" archetype. They embody an imaginative, alternative, organic, queer kind of masculinity, cutting through the drone of both the past's obsession with macho James Dean-types and the modern Internet's jadedness and regressive hatred. They offer hints of communion with something greater that all humans are looking for, whether we know it or not.
All this leads to only one final conclusion. In a godless era, wherein organized religion is out of fashion, the false god of capital has failed us, and the earth seems to be dying before our very eyes, we are all seeking figures to worship. For better or worse, it seems that Neil Gaiman, Nick Cage, and Keanu Reeves, in their wide-eyed, transcendent genuineness, are the closest things that America—or at least, the American Internet in 2019—has to gods.