Neil Gaiman, the acclaimed writer of books like “American Gods,” “Stardust,” and the co-writer of “Good Omens,” is known widely for his legendary comic series: “Sandman.” Although Gaiman’s books and stories have been adapted to television, cinema, and theatre, none of them was as highly anticipated as “Sandman .”Netflix released Sandman’s first season at the beginning of August. This literary adaptation has sparked the usual debate: how loyal are the series to the comics? In this case, the changes make the series more inclusive regarding gender and race.
There are two types of fans for any adaptation on television or the big screen: those with high expectations and those who are upset that their favourite book or comic is to become yet another element of popular culture. Within these two groups, some fans are satisfied, while others are not.
Sandman’s adaptation is no different. The characters and their motivations undergo substantial modifications and adjustments. The Netflix series is a fantastic example of how a classic literary work’s storyline can be altered for TV without compromising its intellectual heft. Of course, there have been a few tweaks that have displeased many fans. We will look deeper into the show’s gender and racial inclusion examples.
Sandman’s adaptation is far more inclusive
Compared to the comics’ original publication, “Sandman” adaptation is far more inclusive. That’s remarkable considering how often LGBTQIA, women, and gender-fluid characters appear in other graphic novels. For instance, Johanna Constantine, Lucifer Morningstar, and Lucienne are all men in the comics; however, in the show, they are women.
One of the first characters we meet in the show is Lucienne, originally named Lucien – an older man and a librarian living in the Dream realm. Lucien does not have much of an impact. In the Netflix Sandman series, however, Lucienne is a woman who has authority and assists Dream. She is wise and trustworthy. During Dream’s absence, she takes care of the Dreaming realm.
Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth of Game of Thrones) plays Lucifer in the series. In the comics, Lucifer, a fallen angel, and ruler of Hell, does not have a gender but resembles a man and is always played by male actors in different TV shows and movies. On the other hand, Lucifer in the series is a woman. Unsurprisingly, the choice of the actor has sparked controversy.
One of the most significant deviations from the original material is Johanna (played by Jenna Coleman). Both John and Johanna Constantine are mentioned in the comics. John works as a sorcerer and occult investigator, and he is the last person who buys Morpheus’ (Dream’s) bag of sand. Johanna also has parts to play, but she is John Constantine’s ancestor. In the series, she plays a significant role because except for hunting down and banishing the devils to hell, she is the one who purchases the bag of sand.
Each of the characters discussed here is essential to the broader mythos and is portrayed by a performer who adds to the story’s universal appeal without taking away from its remarkable qualities. However, many fans backlashed over these actor choices and gender swaps. According to Gaiman, their roles are not gender swaps but rather characters created for the show. Women are more empowered in a story that initially disproportionately portrayed men in roles of might or positions of authority.
As if changing the genders of prominent characters is not enough, Netflix’s Sandman also features non-binary, black, and Asian characters. As a beacon of inclusion, the adaptation will soon be one of the cult series.
Rose Walker is the dream vortex with the powers of bringing people’s dreams together and weakening the walls between the Dreaming and the Waking World. She is depicted initially as a blonde girl, but an African American actor portrays Rose in the adaptation. Unlike the comics, Rose is an influential character in the series.
Desire, one of the Endless and Dream’s siblings, is a nonbinary character in the source material, which is quite unprecedented in a graphic novel. Alexander Park, a nonbinary performer, plays Desire in the show. In the case of Desire, there is no difference, and the character portrayal is quite loyal to the comics. However, it is worth mentioning that despite being a young and less powerful Endless, Desire is cruel, ambitious, led by emotions, and has hatred toward Dream.
My favourite Endless is Death. She is a wise, compassionate, and powerful character. As his elder sister, Death has a strong bond with Dream. Considering that she is one of the most beloved characters in the comics, the fans had high hopes and expectations from the adaptation. Although there are many resemblances in both characters, there is a deviation from the source material in the series. Death is portrayed by African American actor Kirby Howell-Baptiste, which is not the case in the comics.
As I mentioned above, the adaptation has received both negative and positive criticisms. Gaiman retaliated harshly to the critics: “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.”
What counts is that Netflix’s adaptation has proven to be a huge success. Various data sources, such as Parrot Analytics, revealed that the Sandman had outperformed all other programs as the largest streamed show in the world.