The race of the novel’s main character, Shadow, is one that’s been the source of debate since the novel was published in 2001. I’m not aware that the author, Neil Gaiman, has ever been specific about Shadow’s racial make-up, other than to say, “In my head, at least he’s one of those people whose race doesn’t read easily – in the celebrity world, Vin Diesel’s an example of the same kind of look. But it seemed appropriate in a book about America that the hero was of mixed race.”
It’s been argued that, given evidence in the novel, Shadow’s mother is African American. But Gaimain has remained seemingly intentionally vague on the subject.
3 years ago, while on tour promoting the 10th anniversary edition of “American Gods,” speaking to Collider.com, he addressed the problems faced with bringing his works to the screen, stating: “One of the things I’m concerned about is that I really want to make sure the races of all the characters are kept… I want to keep the racial mix in ‘American Gods’ the same. And, I want to make it faithful, but also would like it to have a few surprises for people who read the book.”
Also, Mr. Nancy – Anansi, a trickster from African folklore – is a character that both “American Gods” and the subsequent “Anansi Boys” share. Gaiman once said that Morgan Freeman would be his choice to play that character.
You might recall, a few years ago, when we shared Gaiman’s concerns over producers changing the race of his characters being a hindrance to bringing his novel “Anansi Boys” to the big screen: “That was something I found deeply problematic with the attempt by some people who had a lot of money and a lot of clout, and who wanted the rights to ‘Anansi Boys,’ at one point. Somewhere in there, they made the fatal mistake of saying to me, ‘And, of course, the characters won’t be black in the movie because black people don’t like fantasy.’ They were suddenly very surprised that we were no longer interested in selling them the book.”
All that to say, I can only assume that, given Gaiman’s unwavering public commitment to ensuring that any screen adaptations of his novels are true to their original sources, that this just-announced development won’t reflect some new and unexpected thinking by the author.
Starz said today that the premium cable TV network is moving forward with plans for a series adaptation of “American Gods,” adding that it would contingent on casting of the lead role, Shadow. In essence, if they can’t find an actor they like, the project likely will be dead (at least for them).
“I am thrilled, scared, delighted, nervous and a ball of glorious anticipation. The team that is going to bring the world of ‘American Gods’ to the screen has been assembled like the master criminals in a caper movie: I’m relieved and confident that my baby is in good hands. Now we finally move to the exciting business that fans have been doing for the last dozen years: casting our Shadow, our Wednesday, our Laura,” Gaiman said.
I am glad that it’s on a premium cable TV network; although Starz probably wouldn’t have been my first choice.
The plot for “American Gods” tells a story of a war brewing between old and new gods: the traditional gods of biblical and mythological roots from around the world steadily losing believers to an upstart pantheon of gods reflecting society’s modern love of money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs. Its protagonist, Shadow Moon, is an ex-con who becomes bodyguard and traveling partner to Mr. Wednesday, a conman but in reality one of the older gods, on a cross-country mission to gather his forces in preparation to battle the new deities.
The 2001 novel, which has been translated into over 30 languages, has earned numerous accolades including Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Awards for Best Novel.
The pilot script will be penned by Bryan Fuller (“Hannibal,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Heroes”) and Michael Green (“The River,” “Kings,” “Heroes”), who will also showrun the series. They will executive produce along with Gaiman. FremantleMedia North America will produce the series.
In 2011, HBO planned an adaptation of “American Gods” into a television series, but after 2 years in development, it was scrapped. FreemantleMedia then picked up rights to the novel last year, leading up to Starz getting involved, and then to today’s news.
Needless to say, this is a project whose casting will be closely watched – especially by fans of the novel.