MUSIC

The Legacy of Kanye's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

The rapper's magnum opus turned 10 years old over the weekend.

It's almost eerie how accurately Kanye West predicted his own fate when he uttered the words "I miss the old Kanye" on 2016's The Life of Pablo.

In my head, and likely in the memories of many others, there are two Kanyes: a then and a now. Both are cocky, self-important, certifiable jerks, but then, he at least still felt a marginal need to continue proving himself.

Now, he's so immeasurably detached from reality that it's a little hard to take anything he does or creates seriously—at this point, I find it difficult to even care. I don't want to explicitly cite a certain presidential election and its aftermath as the dividing line between the Kanye of then and now in my conscience, but...yeah, Kanye rubbing elbows with Trump was pretty much the last straw for me.

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TV

"American Gods" Doesn't Understand the Importance of Black Spiritualism

"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.

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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.

FILM & TV

REVIEW | Divine powers clash on the AMERICAN GODS season finale

TV | Ostara and Wednesday finally show off their full power at the big Easter party reunion

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At a party full of Jesuses, Easter finally takes her holiday back.

The first season of American Gods is over after only eight episodes, but they were episodes brimming with stories, beautiful shots and conversation-starting scenes. If nothing else (though as we've seen, there is so much else), showrunners Fuller and Green have gotten people talking about their outstanding new series.

(Spoilers below.)

Bilquis wants her power back. (YouTube)

Like other episodes, Mr. Nancy wants to tell a story. This one is about the Old God we've been missing since Episode 2, Bilquis. What we didn't see at the beginning of the show was the intense struggle Bilquis faced and the deal she made to regain her power.

Even in its season finale, the show displays the same patience that has made its shots gorgeous and its stories fascinating from the first minute. In "Come to Jesus," Mr. Nancy's story of Bilquis reveals an Old God suffering the same, forgotten fate as Wednesday and the others. From ancient Bliquis to disco-Bilquis, she struggled to hold onto her followers and keep power. She even fell victim to the pillaging of Daesh, who destroyed her temples and posted the videos online. Like Vulcan, she found salvation in the New Gods—by making a toxic deal with Technical Boy.

The moral of the story, according to Mr. Nancy? Wednesday needs a queen. The queen Wednesday chooses is not Bilquis, but a new face in the show, a god who is not only forgotten but whose praise has been stolen by none other than Jesus Christ, superstar.

Easter's Easter party. (YouTube)

Easter's (Kristin Chenoweth) grand Easter party celebrates the vernal equinox, the coming of Spring and herself, a.k.a. Ostara. Ostara is the god of Spring in Germanic traditions because her name is also the name of the month when Spring begins. Chenoweth's Ostara shares the frustrations of Wednesday and Bilquis but also feels replaced by the many, many Jesus Christs in attendance.

Ostara was one of the novel's best introductions because most readers were guilty of worse than forgetting her: they, as Wednesday explains in the show, were never aware of her at all because Easter became Jesus's day a couple of millennia ago. "It's religious Darwinism," Media says, praising adaptation over nostalgia. Technical Boy put it more bluntly: "You're old as f*ck. Things are never going back to the way they were."

Jesus sipping drinks on the pool. (YouTube)

Hearing that sentence, a viewer is faced with a conflict: Wednesday and the Old Gods are the good guys in the show, but can any of them, or us, really argue with Technical Boy's point? Can we really cheer for a bunch of washed-up gods whose power is lacking and whose relevance is questionable? Can we cheer for gods who require complex blood sacrifices when it's so much easier to welcome the future and pray through our screens? Can we, watching this series on TV (or streaming it to a laptop or however we're watching) and reading and writing about it later on tablets and phones, genuinely side with the kin of ancient Odin?

In answer to these questions and the challenges of Mr. World & Co., Wednesday and Ostara finally demonstrate the power they've bragged about for seven hours of the show. Adaptation might have kept Media strong, but her strength shrinks in the face of the old as Ostara strips the land of its blossoms and postpones the Spring entirely.

Give it back to them when they pray for it, Wednesday tells her.

As Bilquis ignores the threats of Technical Boy and rides a bus to House on the Rock, Wednesday and Ostara follow up the sacrifice of Vulcan with the second shot of the war. After all of the asides for characters whose histories aren't explored in Neil Gaiman's novel, it's difficult to predict where, exactly, we are in the story and where Season 2 might pick up. With the sides growing, the characters converging on Wisconsin and Shadow and Laura reunited, next season will bring even more clashes and more stories from both sides of the war.

Follow American Gods on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Watch all eight episodes now on Starz.


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FILM & TV

REVIEW | Kindness comes from the gods in the time-traveling 'AMERICAN GODS' Ep. 7

TV | The show prepares for its season one finale with the refreshingly warm story of resident-grump Mad Sweeney

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Clever casting takes inspiration from the stage to blend the past with the present.

In an episode without a single frame of Ricky Whittle's Shadow or Ian McShane's Wednesday, the writers produce another storytelling twist that explores the benevolence of even the hardest Old Gods and history's favorite trick: repeating itself.

(Spoilers below.)

Laura steals an ice cream truck. (YouTube)

Mr. Nancy's roommate/coworker, Mr. Ibis, narrates "A Prayer for Mad Sweeney" as he writes it in his heavy book of "Coming to America" stories. In the Leprechaun's arrival story, a young Irish woman who believes in him is responsible for his travels from Ireland to the Americas to London and, finally, back to America.

Ibis also narrates parts of the flashes forward to our current story, where Browning's Laura and the never-changing Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) steal an ice cream truck to quicken their pursuit of Shadow. This allows the writers to further weave the episode-long intro-story into Sweeney's past by casting Emily Browning as Essie Macgowan, the young believer sent to the New World. While Sweeney, her Leprechaun in both times, finds himself in prison, in debt and in increasingly bad spirits, both Essie and Laura chase their ambitions and bring Sweeney along with them.

Browning as Essie Macgowan. (YouTube)

At first, the trick of casting suggests that, like so many other characters, Laura isn't the mortal person that she appears to be. Soon, though, the story becomes clear: that these are two linked stories and that it's the showrunners' intentions to blend them almost inseparably. Like a stage play casting the same actress/actor in multiple roles (think Daveed Diggs as both Lafayette and Jefferson in Hamilton), Browning's duel-part fuses Sweeney's two stories together.

The show separates the time periods by music—not with 18th century Irish music for the Essie sequences, but with early 1960s doo-wop/rock and roll. The juxtaposition is hilarious, especially when John Richardson finally marries Essie to the tune, "Daddy's Home," by Shep & the Limelights, or when Essie learns to steal behind the Captain's back to Dion's "Runaround Sue."

Sweeney's story reveals a regretful, lost Old God whose debt to Wednesday weighs on his remaining life. "I was a king once," he tells Laura. "Then they made me a bird. Then Mother Church came along and turned us all into saints and trolls and fairies. And General Mills did the rest." Sweeney lives as a fallen king, a forgotten god like Wednesday and the rest who knows that his destiny places him at House on the Rock, Wisconsin.

Sweeney broods. (YouTube)

When dead-Laura dies again, thrown through the windshield of the ice cream truck, her stitches torn open and the lucky coin spilled onto the road, Sweeney is faced with a decision and a recent memory that changes the entire story. We see Laura's first death and, standing over her, Sweeney, telling the raven that his job is done. So Laura was Wednesday's—and Sweeney's—first victim in this war, her death part of a grand plan to recruit Shadow and set the whole machine in motion.

Sweeney's decision as he stands over Laura's dead body for the second time becomes more meaningful after that reveal: he gives up his precious lucky coin to resurrect her. At the same time, the parallel story shows him comforting the elderly Essie in her dying moment, uniting two moments of kindness in Sweeney's troubled past.

Salim called Sweeney an "unpleasant creature" when Laura released him early in the episode. But forty-five minutes later, Sweeney earns all of our sympathy and suddenly becomes one of the heroes of the story. This is material that is completely absent from the book but that shows the ambitions of the show's creators, Fuller and Green, to expand the universe created by Neil Gaiman and use the opportunities of a TV show to give each character the story they deserve.

After an episode featuring only three of the show's main characters, next week's season finale promises to bring together everyone for what it's safe to guess will be quite a clash of personalities. One more week of American Gods before we're left waiting for Season 2.

Follow American Gods on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Watch the Season 1 Finale this Sunday at 9pm Eastern.


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FILM & TV

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TV | On the run, Shadow and Wednesday find a fiery Old God who has found a way to franchise his power

YouTube

One old god has turned bullets into prayers in a very creepy Virginia town.

Shadow and Wednesday are on the run from Mr. World and his shapeshifting partner, Media. Laura, on the run chasing Shadow (ha, get it?), runs back into Mad Sweeney who's chasing his lucky coin inside of Laura's stomach. They both join Salim, who's chasing his jinn-lover, in Salim's taxi and drive off toward Kentucky.

(Spoilers below.)

Vulcan, Virginia. (YouTube)

"Welcome to Vulcan, Virginia," Wednesday says to Shadow as they drive into a suspiciously empty small town. Shadow is right to feel uncomfortable: the few people lining the sidewalk carry rifles strapped to their backs; the grandmother in a wheelchair rests her gun on her lap; a funeral parade marches down the middle of the main street, made up of dozens of gun-wielding, red-armband-wearing white people.

This town is Purge-levels of creepy and when the marchers fire a salute straight into the air, the bullets rain down on Shadow's car like hellish hail.

The leader of this show of force is Wednesday's latest potential recruit: the god of fire and the forge and namesake of the town, Vulcan.

Vulcan leads the parade. (YouTube)

Vulcan's bullet factory—his giant forge—towers over the town breathing black smoke into the air and filling the guns of its citizens with Vulcan-made ammunition. With this factory, Vulcan explains to Wednesday, he has franchised his power.

Every fiery gunshot that fires a bullet stamped with Vulcan's name is like a prayer to him and every death by bullet, a blood sacrifice. The worker who fell into the vat of molten metal and became a few cases of bullets? An even better sacrifice. "Every bullet fired in a crowded movie theater is a prayer in my name," Vulcan says.

Vulcan counters Wednesday's proposal for war by explaining this new source of power. The rest of the Old Gods might be starving for prayers, but not Vulcan. He's happy with his murder-hungry followers and greedy for sacrifice. After pledging alliance to the New Gods like Mr. Wood, his hunger for power makes him just as much an enemy to Wednesday.

Always-clever Wednesday uses Vulcan's own trick against him: killing him with the sword that Vulcan has just forged in Wednesday's name, making him a godly blood sacrifice to Wednesday and cursing the bullets that will contain the fiery metal that buried him.

Jesus de Mexico. (YouTube)

Vulcan isn't the only god murdered in "A Murder of Gods."

This episode's "Coming to America" story follows a group of Mexican immigrants wading carefully across the unnamed-Rio Grande into unnamed-Texas or New Mexico. When some anti-immigration warriors show up in lifted pickups and armed with assault rifles loaded with Vulcan bullets, the triumphant scene turns tragic. In a display of Vulcan's power, the gunmen murder the immigrants, their guns engraved with "Thy Kingdom Come" and rosaries in their hands. They crucify the Christ figure who saved one traveler from drowning in the river and the camera zooms out on Dead Jesus, lying in the crucifixion pose and with a glowing heart like the famous Sacred Heart image.

Laura and Sweeney take the road. (YouTube)

"Did you just name-drop Jesus Christ?" Laura asks Sweeney when he says he knows a guy who knows a guy who can, possibly, resurrect her. Wednesday mentioned history's Jesuses in an earlier episode, and it looks like he'll be making more appearances in the show in one form or another. This opening scene showed the tragic incompatibility of guns and religion, while the rest of the episode basically turned guns into a form of idol worship. With both sides of the Old vs. New war showing off their power, the stakes are growing and the show is plunging headfirst into all of its implications for the real world.

Follow American Gods on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Watch Episode 7 this Sunday at 9pm Eastern.


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