The Sandman creator Neil Gaiman defends casting nonbinary and Black actors in Netflix adaptation
Most of the major roles in Netflix's upcoming TV adaptation of The Sandman comic book series have now been cast, but not everyone is happy with recent interpretations of its characters.
After an announcement last week confirmed that nonbinary actor Mason Alexander Park will play Desire, a nonbinary character in the source material, and Black actor Kirby Howell-Baptiste (The Good Place, Cruella) will play Death, who is visually depicted as white in the comics, some commenters online lashed out at Neil Gaiman, who originally co-created The Sandman with artists Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg, and is a producer of the Netflix version alongside David S. Goyer and showrunner Allen Heinberg. But Gaiman hit back with equal passion.
"I give all the f---s about the work," Gaiman tweeted in response to someone who accused him of not safeguarding the material. "I spent 30 years successfully battling bad movies of Sandman. I give zero f---s about people who don't understand/haven't read Sandman whining about a non-binary Desire or that Death isn't white enough. Watch the show, make up your minds."
Death and Desire are siblings of series protagonist Dream (Tom Sturridge) and members of the immortal pantheon called The Endless, with each of them embodying a central concept of the universe. Though Death is shown having white skin in The Sandman, it's not "white" in the sense that Death is Caucasian, but rather a literal white, as if to evoke paleness or the color of a ghost.
It is also worth noting that the Endless manifest in various ways throughout the Sandman comics, because they represent timeless concepts that appear differently to different people as opposed to living beings locked within one body. As one fan pointed out in a post that Gaiman retweeted, Death manifests as a young Chinese girl in one story, while in an early issue of The Sandman set in ancient Africa, Dream appears as a Black man.
Some fans assert that Death taking the form of a Black woman is very much in keeping with the original text, with several already drawing art imagining Howell-Baptiste's portrayal of the character, approvingly retweeted by Gaiman.
The Endless may change, but one thing that remains consistent is Desire's gender — or lack thereof. When this member of the Endless first appears in The Sandman No. 10, the narration describes Desire as "him-, her-, or itself" and notes, "Desire has never been satisfied with just one sex, or just one of anything."
Sci-fi author John Scalzi noted in a post retweeted by Gaiman that Desire "was really the first time I encountered in fiction the idea of a person being non-binary. It helped me when reality presented me without non-binary people, some of whom I now know and love. I can't imagine reading Sandman and desiring Desire as anything other.
Desire's nonbinary identification is so textual that one supporter asked Gaiman if he thought critics of these castings had even read The Sandman. "I don't think so, no," the author responded.
When another asked, "Wasn't Desire… always non-binary…??," Gaiman replied, "Well, yes. But you'd have to have read the comics to know that. And the shouty people appear to have skipped that step."
Netflix and Gaiman did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment.