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Sandman: Casting Shade

The people who read the comics will see Dream being African AND Muslim. And read about a Desire who is "trans pan sexual in a poly amorous relationship" with all of us. It's always been there, and the fans have been good with it for over thirty years. -Neil Gaiman

In which the wonderful Mikey and JRS analyze the twittersplosion around the announcement of the casting for the upcoming Sandman series as a great way to introduce Pride month. Come join us there, at the progressive Pride flag over the dividing line between dreams and reality...

MIKEY: Did you see the exchange where someone said that casting a black actress as Death was as wrong as if Neil decided to write Mazikeen as white and he got to respond, 'um... she was white in the comics.' Something about that really satisfied me.

JRS: It’s like the fash community was waiting to complain whatever they got. They’re going wild about Death, Desire and Johanna Constantine, Rose Walker and Unity Kincaid. The sad thing is, all of the Endless have appeared in the comics as different races, so this is the oddest kind of fanboying. Dream's family are clearly identified as ideas, not human beings, and each appears differently throughout the series. It makes me wonder if they weren't prepared to strike at this generally progressive comic no matter what. Let’s take a look at this awesome cast:

MIKEY: Honestly, the one I’m most excited to see on screen is Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne. For some reason I really loved Lucien in the comics. And is it weird that that isn’t one of the casting decisions people are bitching about? Or at least, if they are, I haven’t seen it. Does the pearl clutching set not remember that Lucien was basically played by James Cromwell in the comic?

JRS: I think for many of the angry folks the issue is about the power they associate with protagonists. Death is one of the most powerful characters in Gaiman’s universe. So is Desire. There’s some chatter about Lucifer’s casting - which makes sense as Lucifer also has a place of power in that world. The fash types - the Shouty Folk, as Gaiman names them - want their power to remain white and straight, and get upset with their notions of reality are upset. Not such a big issue for Lucienne who’s just a fragment of a dream, or Rose and Unity.

For myself I’m TOTALLY excited to see Gwendoline Christie in the role of Lucifer - so different from Brienne of Tarth! The irony is that Christie’s mien and look hit me as 100% Lucifer. In fact to me the casting isn’t about social justice or equity-this is a Sandman for 2021 and just as authentic as Sandman in the 1990’s. Because a literal copy of a comic cast from 1990, in a movie in 2021, would not be really true to the original or evoke the same feeling. The updates bring back the sense of freshness and relevance.

MIKEY: I could not agree more. And oh my God, I couldn’t be more excited for Christie’s Lucifer! That’s an interesting point about power being a factor in the Shouty Folk pushback. I think that’s a factor in Rose and Unity as well, as lead characters in The Dollhouse they have a level of agency that the side characters don’t have.

I wonder if it’s a coincidence that this is all being announced at the beginning of pride? I suspect it probably is. But even so, it feels so ‘right’. Like, I don’t think I’ve seen casting announcements that include the artists pronouns before, and I’m so here for it.

I wonder who’s playing Hal? That feels like a nice pride announcement for them to roll out.  Except now I’m wondering how Hal is going to play in 2021. The camp diva/bitch drag queen thing was just part of the world in the early 90s, but I suspect it hasn’t aged well.

JRS: They might update Hal too. I haven’t seen him in the cast lists - I wonder if he’s been written out. I love the idea that they timed this announcement to Pride because the Sandman comics were a big part of my coming out process (my first crush gave me my first copy) and had an impact on my life. Watching Death teach people to put condoms on translated to me becoming a sex ed teacher in my 20’s. Do you remember that? In the 1990’s it was one of the most progressive things ever.

MIKEY: John Constantine skulking around with a banana! And the sassy message up front about how some people just want to get offended by things and if you think that might be you feel free to not read it. SO much attitude! Now you mention it, I came out over the course of Sandman’s run as well. I wonder if there aren’t a lot of us who had that experience. So much of the book was about acceptance and identity. And fabulous outfits, those probably also played a role.

JRS: And those outfits better be fabulous in the show as well! (The costume designer Sam Keyte, worked for Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America, so I have hope.) Dream’s flowing gowns were stunning in the comics and I wanted to wear most of them. I’m very curious to see how Tom Sturridge plays the role; Dream has always struck me as kind of gender-bending, even though he’s got a solid history of cis relationships. I’m not looking forward to seeing the Corinthian, even though he’s arguably a queer character due to his love of young men; the character gave me nightmares as a child.

MIKEY: I’m having a lot of feelings looking at that picture.  Yes, it’s interesting how comprehensively fluid Dream is on just about every level.  And yet we only ever saw cis relationships, because 90s.  I wonder if there’s any possibility that they’ll gender flip Nada.  That would give all sorts of interesting dimensions to Tales in the Sand.  I’d love that.

The more I think about it, the more I can’t imagine that they’re not going to have Dream display more a fluid sexuality. It just doesn’t make sense for them to not in this day and age.

That said, if I’m going to thirst trap over a member of the Endless, it’s going to be Destruction.  God I had such a crush on him back in the day.  I’m still hoping for Jared Keeso from Letterkenny to get that role.

JRS: I’m with you. Comic Book Destruction was amazing. Jared Keeso would definitely be a good candidate… as long as Gaiman doesn’t play with that role as well! I’d be interested in seeing what would happen if Gaiman played with Destruction - after Destiny, Destruction seems the least mutable of the Endless, which is, likely, why he’s so loved by Delirium. Let’s say he did - what if David Ramsay (Diggle from Arrow) took on the role? He has the same sort of good natured vibe I got from Destruction in the comics.

"I may just be writing this review to look at pictures of shirtless men. Only my therapist knows."

MIKEY: Oh, I think we all know.  He said, while not looking away.

Yeah, David Ramsay would have a great vibe for Destruction. I’d definitely be down for that.

I’m interested to see how the casting of Rose affects the storytelling in various parts of Dollhouse.  For example, avoiding spoilers, the entire story of what’s happening with her brother Jed reads a bit differently if Jed is black.  And I bet there are a ton of other aspects of the story that I’m not even thinking of which will be affected by a racial filter.  That’s super interesting to me, and I can’t wait to see how and when it manifests.

Since you mentioned him, I’m thinking about the implications of The Corinthian and I’m not super sure I’m comfortable with part of the Queer representation being ‘creepy guy that stalks and uses young boys’.  Now that I’m thinking about it, there was a lot of queer representation in that storyline, which helped offset the potential cringe factor.  With a question mark already raised about Hal, I’m really hoping that the Zelda and Chantal make a strong appearance.  They have such a wonderful, understated tenderness to their storyline that I’d miss if it wasn’t there.

JRS: OMG! The spider ladies! I completely forgot about those characters, but they were absolutely wonderful nods to the gothic nature of Sandman. And there were also Barbie and Ken, weren’t there, the ultimate straight couple who weren’t really?

Excitingly, it seems filming has concluded for the first season, so we’ll be learning the answer to our questions in a couple of months. Also, it seems that Gaiman has leaked that another queer character, Wanda, a trans individual, will be appearing in Season Two, and thus has also leaked that there will be a Season Two.

MIKEY: I can’t wait!

And a last word from Gaiman on the logic of casting:
“I give all the fucks about the work. I spent 30 years successfully battling bad movies of Sandman. I give zero fucks about people who don't understand/haven't read Sandman whining about a non-binary Desire or that Death isn't white enough.”  
-Neil Gaiman


  1. Okay I know nothing about the original source material but I am really excited for this. Also, SUPER LOVE that they put each actor's pronouns on the casting announcement. I know Kirby Howell-Baptiste from The Good Place and I really liked her, but I'm most excited for Jenna Coleman as Johanna. Please put her in Constantine's signature outfit just for a second! Jenna's already shown she can pull off a suit with ease (see: Doctor Who episode "Time Heist").

    1. I don't think she's playing John Constantine. She's probably playing Lady Johana Constantine from the comics, who was John's ancestor and worked for Morpheus during the time of the French Revolution

  2. I love the original book - a collection called "Doll's House" - I recommend it if you get a chance; it's on Kindle.


    1. JRS, Doll's House is the second story arc. It was released as the first at one point do to corporate shenanigans, but now Preludes and Nocturnes is actually the first book in the series.

    2. The movie is based on Doll’s House.

    3. The... movie which taught me not to post at 7 am, LOL. I meant the first season.

      And now I want to add that I wonder if they’ll fit P&N somewhere, or Overture.

    4. Look at the cast announcements again, they've cast all the major players from Preludes and Nocturnes (John Dee and his mother, Charles Dance as Burgess, Lucifer). They'll definitely be doing that story arc.

  3. I disappointed, but not at all surprised that all this amazing casting has got some people in a rage.

    Gaiman is my favourite author and The Sandman was what first got me into his work so I'm ridiculously excited for this show. Hopefully it'll turn out better than American Gods did.

  4. Neil Gaiman is literally my last desperate hope that someone who created something I love is worth believing in. Got burned by JK Rowling pretty bad.

    Thankfully, Neil seems to be every bit the good person I need him to be, the odd but of mid covid travel notwithstanding.

    And please don't bring up issues with Amanda Palmer, none of us is there to fairly judge what's happening in anybody else's marriage

  5. Anyway, I'm sure the show will be great, but most of all I really hope Gwendolyn Christie's performance is popular enough to give her a spin-off that follows the Lucifer comics more closely. I love Tom Ellis, but his charming supernatural cop romance dramedy has almost nothing to do with Mike Carey's dark fantasy epic.

  6. She could both the the ancestor and present-day Johanna. This is an experienced time traveller after all.

    1. Hmm, or she could have gained immortality somehow, which fits in with The Sandman's recurring themes

  7. Based on how Gaiman has described the character, I think Jenna Coleman will be playing both the historical Johanna Constantine and some modern day version of the character who will replace John Constantine in the story.

  8. My understanding is they're doing the same set that the Audible covered, Preludes/Doll's House/Dream Country

    They kind of have to start with Preludes, since the whole show is the story of him being released from imprisonment in the present day, and Preludes is... you know.. where he gets trapped and released in the present day. Plus, like Diogo said, they've announced most of the cast from that set of stories, so it seems pretty sure.

    I hadn't thought about whether they were changing John to Johanna in the present day for Dream a Little Dream (that was the name of that one, wasn't it? It also had Scott Free and J'Onn J'onzz in it. Could this please finally be the springboard to getting a Mister Miracle show starring Matt Bomer?

    I think that would be great. I mean, it's always great to see John, but flipping it to a time displaced Johanna gives her history with Dream, plus they're looking for an ex girlfriend of Constantine's who stole something, which would mean surprise bonus LGBT representation and give people something else to be all upset about. Win all around!

  9. Dream Country was the name of the run that had Dream of 1000 cats, Facade, and Tales in the sand, wasn't it?

    I feel like Billie is going to really love Dream of 1000 cats.

    1. Dream of a Thousand Cats is easily one of my favorite comic book issues ever

  10. Mikey, Tales in the Sand was from The Dolls House, but the other two were from Dream Country.

    I've read that they're only doing Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll's House in the first season, although it is possible they could include one of the stories from Dream Country.

  11. That makes sense. Although if they're casting Wanda for a game of you for season two, that leaves them a lot to get through in the second season.

    A Game of You is my favorite Sandman story. The last issue makes me cry just thinking about it

  12. I can’t wait for The Sound of Her Wings.

  13. OK, now I want to hear from everybody - What's your favorite issue of Sandman (or story).

    Mine specifically is the last issue of A Game of You - 'I woke up and one of us was crying'

    You know which one of us it was? Me. Every damn time I read it.

  14. And apparently I forgot to sign out of my other account before that last comment. That was Mikey. As is this.

  15. I'll get back to you on that after I've done my reread of the entire series.

  16. In case anyone was unaware, Hal is being played by the OG Hedwig himself, John Cameron Mitchell! Which means there are two official Hedwigs in the cast.

    Interestingly, while taking a moment to check JCM's pronouns a moment ago I learned that he came out as non-binary just this last March, but continues to use he/him.

    There aren't words for how much I want bonus material of him and Mason Alexander Park having a good, solid kiki.


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