Written way back in 1989, calling Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece of a graphic novel collection ahead of its time is probably an understatement. It is an understatement of all the centuries that make up the endless life of Hob Gadling. Crisp storytelling, a fascinating mix of characters, and inclusivity in every sense of the word, The Sandman was ‘woke’ when the concept did not even exist. No matter how fantastical or larger-than-life the characters are, their essence is rooted in reality and real issues.
Diversity in Neil Gaiman’s Comics
For a story revolving mostly around a celestial called Dream of The Endless, The Sandman comics also feature realistic, well-rounded queer relationships, trans characters, and people of color. In a recent interview with Guardian, Neil Gaiman illustrated that he “wanted to change hearts and minds” of his readers. “I had trans friends and still do, and it seemed to me that no one was putting trans characters in comics. And I had a comic,” added Neil.
Desire, the anthropomorphic personification of yearning, is a genderless, androgynous, and extremely powerful being. As Morpheus’s manipulative sibling, they are absolutely pivotal to the narrative. Alex Burgess, son of the magus, and his lover Paul, also had a warm and healthy queer relationship in the comics.
Moreover, Dream appears as Kai’ckul, The Sandman, from African folklore to his former lover, Nada. This not only emphasizes Dream’s ability as a shapeshifter but is also a testament to Neil’s diverse characters. While it wasn’t perfect, it was a great and earnest effort, considering the period in which they were set and written.
Bringing The Sandman to the 21st Century
For three decades, The Sandman was stuck in a loop of failed attempts for an adaptation. Finally, Neil Gaiman’s brilliant story finally came alive with Netflix’s live-action rendition of the comics. The comics, though inclusive for a large part, were nowhere close to perfect, especially if you consider political correctness, feminism, racial neutrality, gender identities, and the overall political environment of 2022.
In an attempt to age well and update with time, the creators did their best to make a contemporary show. They gender-swapped some important characters like Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie), Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman), and Lucienne the librarian (Vivienne Acheampong). Their casting process was also fairly color blind. The creators chose people of color as opposed to the mostly white characters in the comics like Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Rose Walker (Kyo Ra), Cain and Abel (Sanjeev Bhaskar and Asim Choudhary).
The creators also ensured gender-appropriate casting by recruiting Mason Alexander Park as Desire. It is a show of the 21st century, aware of the fact that “not everyone is white or straight.” They also understand the fact that “a person’s character is more than just their gender.” Even the cast announcement had every star’s pronoun clearly stated under their picture and the character’s name.
However, people always tend to dismiss every new change at first, and sadly, The Sandman was not an exception to this rule. The Sandman faced fan backlash for gender-swapping their beloved characters. If that wasn’t enough, some other audience members accused the creators of pandering to the LGBTQIA+ audiences. They even believe that the makers forced diversity into the show just to appear woke. Well, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
In my opinion, the cast is a treasure trove of talent and seamlessly blends into the beautiful world conceptualized by Neil Gaiman. Every portrayal, every recreation, and every rewrite adds value to the on-screen version of The Sandman. Diversity is not a box that they ticked to make people happy or unhappy. It is an integral part of the ethos of the show. In fact, it fits organically as the eighth member of The Endless: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire, Delirium, and now Diversity.
What do you think of the casting choice? Let us know in the comments. All the episodes of The Sandman are now streaming on Netflix.