This is not exactly an article about American Gods, although you may learn some interesting facts along the way. Unfortunately this article is a story of poor reporting and a media attack on Neil Gaiman and The American Gods television series. A failed attempt, I might add, because the controversy simply does not exist. Still, Gaiman provides a wonderful example for anyone who is falsely accused in the media on how to handle controversy in a dignified way.
American Gods is a story by Neil Gaiman that readers have enjoyed since 2001. A special tenth anniversary edition with the “author’s preferred text” was published in 2011. There are two audio book versions; the first narrated by George Guidall in 2003 and a second full cast audio book in 2011. The book won the 2002 Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Bram Stoker Awards for Best Novel among many others.
When Junot Díaz (2015) and Gaimen had a discussion about diversity in the arts, Díaz commented that Gaimen takes an unusual stance in that he promotes diversity in his work. Gaiman refused to sell the rights to his novel Anansi Boys when the producers told him they planned to change the race of the main characters because “black people don’t like fantasy” (as quoted in Díaz, 2015). Gaimen’s response: “Well, then, you can’t have the book” (as quoted in Díaz, 2015). Considering the entire book is about two brothers whose father was an African god, their race is vital to the narrative and is not something Gaiman would consider altering.
In the Sandman comics, Gaiman included a variety of characters that had been underrepresented at the time he began publishing his work. He states in the Díaz (2015) interview that he wanted to simply include his friends, who at the time could not find a visual representation of themselves. It was not a plan to increase diversity: “There were gay characters in there. There were trans characters in there,” he explained, “because people like my friends don’t get into comics. I am writing a comic. I can put them in.”
In 2014 Starz announced that it would develop a series from American Gods with Bryan Fuller (writer/producer of several Star Trek series, Heroes, and Hannibal) and Michael Green (writer/producer of Smallville and Heroes). Gaiman told the producers:
You can absolutely do the novel, but the racial breakdown in the novel stays. Shadow, the hero, is mixed-race. I want you to find me a mixed-race actor. All of the characters, you know, they represent America, and they represent the glorious, messed-up, mixed-up, wonderfulness of America and that I want in there (as quoted in Díaz, 2015).
Gaiman relates that there was no argument from Starz, the producers, or anyone associated with the project.
Recently it was announced that Ricky Whittle (The 100 and Hollyoaks) would star as Shadow. Ricky Whittle’s official photo from the IMDB appears below:
On his official Twitter feed @neilhimself, Gaiman shared a link of an article entitled “Starz ‘American Gods’ Criticized for Casting Ricky Whittle as Shadow” by Ralin May Dayon. The blub states “Starz TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fiction book ‘American Gods’ is under scrutiny for whitewashing after Ricky Whittle from ‘The 100’ has been cast as main protagonist Shadow Moon . . .”
In his response, Gaiman writes: “I have the awkward feeling that nobody who wrote this article or headline looked at a photo of @MrRickyWhittle.”
I will add—Ricky Whittle’s picture is posted just above the text of the article on the movienewsguide.com site. I am linking it here: https://t.co/j4opCu03v1
This is where the story gets even stranger. Many people commented on the article page about how inaccurate the story was. The web site deleted all of the comments for the article several times during the day, changed the link, and left it up on their page. The site even posted an “Official Apology to Mr. Neil Gaiman” that was present for one day only but still left the article up on their site.
I don’t know if anyone kept an accurate count of how many times the site deleted all of the comments. They varied from “I’m at loss to understand the controversy here. This actor is not white,” and “The rest of the article doesn’t elaborate on who is making the Whitewashing accusation, nor does it explain the rationale for the accusation,” to “Did you seriously post this for a third time?” Fans of the series, and of Gaiman, were not buying into the fake accusations and stated so in no uncertain terms.
Gaiman handled this on his Twitter site @neilhimself with total professionalism. “Thank you for the apology,” he stated. “You still have the link up, though.”
Polite and to the point: a wonderful example to follow.
Dayon, R.M. (2015). Starz ‘American Gods’ criticized for casting Ricky Whittle as Shadow. movienewsguide.com. Retrieved fromhttps://t.co/j4opCu03v1
Díaz, J. (2015). Neil Gaiman in conversation with Junot Díaz. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1kzdP3OlBg