The ever-shifting face of America, a place shaped by faith, race, immigration, and oppression, gives lifeblood to American Gods, Starzs stunning new adaptation of Neil Gaimans bestselling fantasy novel.
In this version of America, the gods of old-world mythology live among us, scraping by on what worship they can scrounge from a nation now infatuated with newer idols, particularly media and technology. These new gods seek to destroy the old and monopolize our worship for themselves.
The old gods now are all but forgotten. The Norse god Odin scrapes through life as a con artist; regal love goddess Bilquis gets by as a sex worker; Egyptian death gods work in dingy funeral homes; Arabian genies pull 30-hour shifts as cab drivers. They are immigrants, that is, transported to America over hundreds of years by seafaring, migrating worshippers.
We travel with desperate Mexican immigrants fleeing north across the border. We meet a gay Muslim man who has erotic, life-changing sex with a genie in his first week in New York. We find African spider god Anansi goading enslaved African men to burn their captors ship down rather than live a life in chains.
To assert these stories as quintessentially Americanto acknowledge the global melting pot of cultures, faiths, and trauma that defines Americais something Gaiman, himself an English immigrant, never fathomed as controversial when the book was first published in 2001. I never got shit for it then, he says plainly.
I thought that I was saying non-contentious things, he goes on, shaking his head, clad in his customary all-black. Things like, This is a country where everybodys an immigrant. And its been made by immigrants and its worked fundamentally by welcoming them in and being a hospitable place. I didnt think that was in any way a controversial thing.
Today, unfortunately, it is. Anti-immigrant sentiment fuels many of the current administrations policies. Verbal attacks and heightened xenophobia have given way to deadly violence. Promises of border walls, deportations, and eliminating filth have instilled debilitating fear in immigrant communities.
I wish the world hadnt gone mad, Gaiman sighs.
Its sort of like, we took this weird lurch to the right in which fringe Nazi beliefs are now just the right-wing, he laments, hunched over a table inside a hotel room in New York. Like, no. No. You guys used to be over there, hung against the wall, dressing up in your fucking sheets. Youre not meant to be in the White House. Youre not meant to be going, We are the rational middle.
Imitating Press Secretary Sean Spicer claiming Hitler didnt even sink to using chemical weapons and Trump supporter Carl Higbie citing World War II-era internment camps as precedent for an immigrant registry, Gaiman mock-whines: Obviously were not really Nazis because we dont actually want to send anybody to campswell, we might but there wont be showers and theyre not gonna gas people!
American Gods is anchored in the odyssey of an ex-con named Shadow (Ricky Whittle), who takes a job as servant and accomplice to a mysterious god named Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) after discovering his wife has died in a car accident. It wasnt exactly intended as a direct response to current events, as co-creators Fuller and Green explain.
When we first started talking about doing this [show] two and a half years ago, the immigrant stories were always the emotional foundation because everyone could get on board with immigrant stories, says Green. Now, representing immigrant stories has become a political act. And thats fascinating in a very dark way.
We are living in a political climate where hate has been pushed out of many Americans and its what we see first before we see the color of their eyes, laments Fuller. And that is a great travesty that this administration has inflicted on the country.
McShane, meanwhile, who plays rascally Mr. Wednesday, insists the shows dissections of faith and race in America would have been relevant at any time. The show had nearly wrapped by the time of the election, he points out.
I think things are coming to a head because theyve been coming to a head for a while in this country, he says. But [Fuller and Green] havent gone out of their way to somehow seize on any immediate headlines. Its a natural progression from the book, which asks these questions about faith, immigration, all those big things in life.
As for those whod rather not confront such weighty questions in their Sunday night entertainment, who insist pop culture and politics should not mix? McShane shrugs. Youre missing out.
Im very nervous watching my baby happen like this.
American Gods premiere Sunday night is a long time coming for Gaiman, who by now knows a thing or two about the thrills and hardships of adapting his work for the screen.
The Sandman and Stardust authornow 56 and a father of four, with graying strands peppering his famously wild hairfirst wooed HBO with a pilot script for American Gods back in 2011. An executive there loved it so much they snapped it up immediately. But by the time Gaiman had finished two drafts and a polish, that executive had moved on to another company. The HBO suits still standing, meanwhile, were far less enthused.
They gave the rights back and were very relieved to have done so because they had no idea what this thing was. They didnt get it, Gaiman says now. HBO, meanwhile, has claimed multiple writers were simply unable to get the script right, a version of the story that prompts Gaiman to laugh.