Last week, Neil Gaiman announced the next wave of actors joining the Netflix adaptation of his Sandman series. Among the newly announced cast were Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Death) and Mason Alexander Park (Desire). Almost immediately, some fans started complaining about these choices, prompting Gaiman to defend the creative team’s decisions.
For some, Howell-Baptiste’s casting marks a departure from the comics, where Death is typically depicted as a white woman. In response to one fan accusing Gaiman of not giving a f–k about the source material, Gaiman replied:
“I give all the f–ks about the work. I spent 30 years successfully battling bad movies of Sandman. I give zero f–ks 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.”
“Well, yes. But you’d have to have read the comics to know that. And the shouty people appear to have skipped that step.”
Gaiman’s not just been firing back at the naysayers, though. He’s also been sharing posts from fans who are reflecting on the impact Desire has had on them over the years. One such post, from science-fiction author John Scalzi, reads:
“Desire in Sandman was really the first time I encountered in fiction the idea of a person being non-binary. It helped me when reality presented me with out non-binary people, some of whom I now know and love. I can’t imagine reading Sandman and desiring Desire as anything other.”
What Does the Source Material Say?
In the comics, Death is typically (though not always) portrayed as a white woman. The thing about the Endless, though, is that their appearance differs depending on who’s perceiving them. The Endless are personifications of bigger ideas – those of dreams, death, desire, despair, destruction, delirium, and destiny. Most of the Endless appear extremely pale in the comics, but they are not always depicted this way. For example, in issue 9, Dream appears as Kai’ckul, a black man, to Nada, the Queen of an African city. So, there’s already precedence for a nonwhite Death.
Additionally, Desire is a nonbinary character. They have always been one. From their very first appearance in the series, they are described as having “never been satisfied with just one sex, or just one of anything.” Throughout their appearances in the comic, they are depicted androgynously. Desire is, after all, the personification of desire. They can be anything and everything anyone could want.
It’s a shame Gaiman has had to defend these decisions so frequently this past week. To me, all of this just feels like people wanting to be mad over something. Personally, I’d rather judge the cast based on the performances they give, and not solely on whether they perfectly match the illustrations in the original comics. I’m looking forward to seeing what every member of this cast brings to their characters.
What do you think about the casting for Death and Desire? Are you looking forward to Netflix’s The Sandman?
Part-time writer, part-time theatre nerd, full-time dork.