The Sleepy Hollow-ing of American Gods
There is still time for American Gods to avoid its impending implosion. But if Sleepy Hollow taught us anything, it’s that we probably shouldn’t hold our Black-ass breaths.
There’s no denying it. Television has experienced quite a boom in the last decade. Prestige and working actors alike have found themselves on the silver screen, blessing us with either weekly programming or binge-friendly programming. And once in a while, you’ll get that one show that rises above the rest…or implodes on itself for seemingly no reason other than to waste everyone’s time (looking at you, the last four seasons of Game of Thrones).
And sometimes, said implosion is…more horrendous to watch than others. The go-to example of such an implosion used to be the infamous Sleepy Hollow, but as of last week? Let’s just say that American Gods is seeking to take over that title.
What do I mean by that? Well, let me clue you in on what the hell is going on with American Gods:
Fans of Sleepy Hollow know all too well the path that American Gods seems destined to go down. At the height of Sleepy Hollow’s glory (re: season one), the show was praised for its seamless diversity, its tight plot that balanced supernatural lore, secret societies, and the end goal of saving the world. Its’ diversity was an enduring point to fans of the series, particularly with the focus on characters like lead Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), Frank Irving (Orlando Jones), Andy Brooks (John Cho), Leena Rayes (Sakina Jeffery), and Jenny Mills (Lyndie Greenwood). But similar to American Gods, Fox decided to dump everything that made the show special, with the most insulting action being the fridging of Abbie Mills in service to white character co-lead Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison). Soon after Mills’ wrongful death, the show was cancelled during its fourth season. But similar to American Gods dismissing Orlando Jones’ Anansi, Mills’ departure was merely the height of the Sleepy Hollow’s bullshit, with plenty of red flags beforehand being presented.
Which leads me to my next point:
Curse of the Boring White Girl Protagonist
One thing American television is especially good for is presenting us with THE most boring White protagonist—with special attention paid to White girl protagonists—they can think of (usually described as an “everyman”) to be the focus of the story. Even though the characters of color around them are far more interesting. This was most popularly noted by Netflix series Orange Is The New Black when creator Jenji Kohan acknowledged that white girl character Piper was her “trojan horse” to tell other interesting stories about prison reform and incarceration. If that were what American Gods was doing, maybe they could get away with it, but that’s not what’s happening.
To explain, American Gods initially focused on protagonist Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and his quest to readjust to society after being released from prison. This leads him to an interesting man by the name of Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), who has mysterious origins that Shadow is not immediately privy too (spoiler alert: He’s Odin). Anyway, all that starts to get sidelined with the return of Shadow’s wife, Laura Moon (Emily Browning), a White woman. And a glorified zombie. Who is only a zombie because of events that lead to her death, including cheating on Shadow…with his best friend. A sizable portion of the second season focuses on her trying to “win” Shadow back and “protect” him from Mr. Wednesday, who she is sure had a hand in her death. Many AG fans [of color] really don’t care for her or the weird racial dynamics of her and Shadow’s relationship (let’s just say Shadow was in jail because of her). But of course, Starz has assumed that we do care about (because White) and has shifted the focus from Shadow onto her.
American God’s sharp change in focus mirrors what Sleepy Hollow went through during its subsequent seasons. In subsequent seasons, we started to see and less of Mills and more and more of character Katrina—a white girl witch who was the center of some ridiculous love triangle between Crane and antagonist the Headless Horseman. And it certainly did not help that that particular character was vaguely grating and functioned as a recurring damsel-in-distress with not much else to contribute. It was a confusing change of course, but it did highlight one important thing: how TV executives see Black characters and other characters of color as replaceable.
Which leads me to my next point:
“Angry Gets Shit Done…” and Pisses White Patriarchs Off
The title of this particular category comes from a superior monologue given by character Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) who is eventually revealed to be the African trickster God Anansi. We are first introduced to him during the second episode of the first season, where he appears on a slave ship after a now enslaved African called Okoye (Conphidance) begs for him and his brethren to be saved. Anansi appears and tells everyone aboard about the story of Black people in American and what fate awaits them if they sit and do nothing. It’s a rousing speech that rightfully inspires anger and subsequent action as Okoye and the group resolve to burn the ship down and Anansi finds himself in America.
The speech, with its’ iconic line of “Angry gets shit done”, made rounds and was praised by fans and critics alike for its brutal honesty. But…it also apparently, and predictably, pissed White patriarchs like new showrunner, Charles Eglee, off.
Last week, Jones went public on Twitter about being let go from American Gods, citing that Eglee did not think the “angry” message was the right one to send to Black America and that he would know since he writes from “a Black male perspective”. Gag me.
In turn, this started a mass expulsion of other characters besides Mr. Nancy. There’s The Jinn (Mousa Kraish) and assumedly Salim (Omid Abtahi), Mr. World (Crispin Glover), and New Media (Kahyun Kim). Hell, I won’t even assume that characters like Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) or Shadow are safe from firing or expulsion. And I assume that many would like to blame such madness on merely the exit of former showrunners Bryan Fuller and Micheal Green (who have voiced support for Jones in particular). But the real issue at hand is that American Gods, much like Sleepy Hollow, has an increasingly not-easily-dismissed race problem. And it is becoming big enough that it just might derail the show.
Which leads me to my final point:
Oshun? More Like Ohsometimes
Whenever a show or a film expressed clear issues with tackling race relations correctly, you can be damn sure that they will also fuck-up discussions on colorism or whitewashing, or worse, gleefully and shamelessly engage in both.
The decline of American Gods and its once sharp-as-nails grasp of the concept of race in America mirrors such issues, with the departure of Mr. Nancy bringing the casting of Herizen Guardiola as Yoruba goddess Oshun back into question. Oshun, sans her appearance in Lemonade, has always been depicted as a beautiful, darkskinned goddess. And it takes a specific type of toffetry and caucasity to assume the opposite and also assume that there cannot be two darkskinned goddesses onscreen at the same time (re: Bilquis).
Of course, it should come as no surprise that in an effort to course-correct and be more appealing to mainstream (read: white) audiences, American Gods is a-okay with engaging in colorism and whitewashing. In fact, there were signs it was headed in this direction before when Haitian deity Maman Brigitte was cast as Hani Furstenberg, a White woman. Now, while multiple sources cite her as “the only White Loa” with origins in Ireland, I don’t know how likely I am to actually believe that when it’s proven time and time again that White folx love them some fabricated history. I mean, do you really expect me to take the word of the same group of people who believe they were pharaohs in ancient Egypt even though they can’t stand to be under the American sun for more than 3.5 seconds?
The debate over Maman Brigitte aside, American Gods’ brazen endorsement of colorism and acceptance of nigh-total Whiteness shows that decision-makers like Eglee don’t give a flying fuck about its success and would rather the show be a whitewashed piece of shit that is shell of its’ former self than be the success that it was (and was formerly destined to be) under the guiding hands of characters of color like Mr. Nancy, and Jinn, and so on.
Of course, there is still time for American Gods to avoid its impending implosion. But if Sleepy Hollow taught us anything, it’s that we probably shouldn’t hold our Black-ass breaths.
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