10 August 2022 4250 Views

SANDMAN. It’s so diverse! But, so what?

by James Murphy

SPECIAL GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: DONNA / ‘VESPER’ Talks us through why a needless diversity drive can actually undermine the very concept of..diversity..by forcing one to keep second guessing writers/ directors/actors, rather than simply enjoying the show?!

 

 

It was with a sense of trepidation that I sat down to watch Sandman (Netflix). Now, I genuinely don’t give a monkey’s about the colour of people’s skin, but given that the real world action in this series is set mostly in London and New York (at least in the 4 episodes my boyfriend Josh and I watched), the “diversity” in casting was genuinely distracting.
The comic books that the series is based upon start with Dream (aka the Sandman) being captured by a magus and imprisoned for nearly 80 years, during which time his tools – a helmet, pouch of sand and a ruby – are stolen. Once he escapes he sets about finding these tools so that he can rebuild his shattered kingdom.
He starts by visiting John Constantine, who had the sand but recalls that he left it at the house of a (white) junky ex-girlfriend. They go to retrieve the Sandman’s sand, only to find that the junky has gotten addicted to it.
The series starts in much the same way, only Dream visits Joanna Constantine, who, when we are first introduced to her, is meeting up with an Asian female vicar with a cockney accent who swears and talks nonstop about men she fancies, and who inexplicably has been asked to marry a British princess (white, thankfully) to a black footballer who turns out to be demon possessed. The demon is an African warrior. (isn’t THAT racist?).
All of this appears to have been included only to poke fun at the British royal predilection for BDSM. Joanna then realises she’s left the sand at her ex-girlfriend’s house. The ex is of course still a woman (gotta get the ‘diversity’ in there somehow!) and black – and also not a junky, so now the story line doesn’t make any sense.

We get ten minutes of them sorting out their love-life, which we don’t care about because we’ve only just met them.In another scene Joanna, who has a cheeky cockney chim-chimeney accent, fails to save a little black girl with a strong geordie accent from being sucked into hell. I assume this story line will surface again in later episodes, though it’s by no means certain.
We also meet the Hecate, the three witches you might remember from Macbeth or any number of Greek myths. You’ll also likely remember that they are therefore not Indian. Well, surprise!

  • Dream’s most faithful servant Lucian (white and male in the comics), is now female and black Lucienne.
  • A middle class family living in a very well appointed London house in 1916 is black (how?).
  • Cain and Abel are Indian rather than Levantine.
  • Death is black (isn’t THAT racist?)
  • Lucifer Morningstar is a woman, but she is white, which brings us onto the few white characters. Other than Dream himself, who, though white is also somewhat chubby-faced and has zero charisma, every single white character is a bad person.
  • There is the Magus who imprisons Dream, his son who keeps Dream imprisoned but, as we are supposed to feel sympathy for him, is also gay, a woman who steals Dream’s items and uses them to make herself rich and live forever, and her son, a psychopathic murderer. And that’s it for white people.
As I said at the top, I genuinely don’t care about the colour of people’s skin. Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Will Smith, and Thandie Newton are all fine actors who I have enjoyed watching in many productions, and there are many more besides.
do care about storytelling, however, and good storytelling depends upon rational world-building. You can have dragons and orcs and hobbits in your story as long as you remain consistent in how you use them, and keep the world intact. Have an orc family move into Hobbiton and get immediately invited to the July 4th annual cookout, however, and suddenly the world is shattered.
Similarly, set your story in London in 1916, and it looks out of place if the middle class family in the nice townhouse is black. It shatters the story’s world. The only way for the viewer to make sense of this is to construct a new world — one in which the colour of the people is inverse to our own world. As a result, when we come across a character who, in the comics is an African queen, I was genuinely surprised that she wasn’t portrayed by a white actress. The result is constant jarring, which distracts from the story and makes it nigh-on impossible to watch.
It didn’t have to be this way. The original comics had plenty of diverse characters, including the African queen and a trans-woman. But they also made sense within the world that Neil Gaiman built, and so work perfectly well. Likewise it is possible to have a white character portrayed by a coloured actor if it makes no difference to the story. Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Red in The Shawshank Redemption, who was Irish in the original Stephen King story, is a case in point: his casting works because because the character is ‘a man in a prison’, so the world remains consistent.
Likewise with Harold Perrineau as Mercutio and John Leguizamo as Tybalt in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which again works admirably because the story is consistent within its own world. The same could have been done here:   Vivienne Acheampong turns in a great performance as Lucienne without distracting one iota from the story. Instead they pushed it too far, shoe-horning ‘diversity’ in wherever they could. A poster released to trail the series even listed the characters’ pronouns. This isn’t daring storytelling, it’s Woke virtue-signalling dressed up as art. People can tell the difference. 
It occurred to me as we watched last night that our culture has completely forgotten how to tell stories. This is a problem. Cultures are built on stories. Humans have told each other stories since we became human. We still tell those stories now. It’s not a mere happenstance that multi-billion dollar industries – film, music, gaming, art, are wholly involved in telling stories. Every time you sit down to watch a film, read a book or open the news app on your phone, you are engaging in stories.
If those stories don’t make sense – and currently ours don’t – the culture cannot survive.
To read more of Donna’s work, click here 

 



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