Home Graphic novel How the conscientious casting of women in ‘The Sandman’ challenges the trope of gender swapping

How the conscientious casting of women in ‘The Sandman’ challenges the trope of gender swapping


In “The Sandman,” the titular hero’s stronghold lies at the heart of The Dreaming, an aircraft where anything is possible if its master wills. Humans can be reborn as crows; crows can become people. Nightmares have the potential to turn into benevolent daydreams. Lands can expand and shrink, disappear and be recreated.

To believe that “Sandman” author Neil Gaiman wouldn’t give himself the same leeway to adapt his graphic novels into a lush live-action vision for Netflix would be silly. Then again, anyone making that assumption isn’t very familiar with Gaiman or his work.

As well as being a lifelong student and philosopher of myth, the author adjusts his work to the medium and time period in which he is presented. That’s why a story once considered unfilmable is blossoming as a TV series: Gaiman and showrunner Allan Heinberg are faithful to the original work without being zealous in recreating it exactly as it was first rendered. in 1989.

The Netflix series is a prime example of how the plot of a classic literary work can be streamlined and its characters’ motivations altered to better serve television audiences without losing any of its intellectual weight. “The Sandman” is designed to make television even more inclusive than it was when it was first released. Considering the importance of LGBTQIA and fluid characters in graphic novels, this is remarkable.

Gaman…[is] faithful to the original work without being zealously bound to recreate it exactly as it was first rendered in 1989.

It also makes the series’ ways of introducing women in place of characters originally written as male, or asexual, particularly enjoyable.

As Gaiman explains, their roles aren’t gender swaps but characters developed for the show. This means more women in prominent roles in a story whose original version disproportionately featured men in positions of power or authority.
Best of all, they aren’t small pieces that are easy to overlook. Each of the figures examined here is central to the larger mythos and played by a performer who helps broaden the story’s appeal without losing any of what makes it extraordinary. But then, fans already understand that. . . this is why very few of these changes caused an uproar.

Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer Morningstar in “The Sandman” (Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix)

Lucifer Morning Star

When Netflix announced that Gwendoline Christie was cast as the ruler of Hell after playing Brienne of Tarth in “Game of Thrones,” only a fool wouldn’t have recognized the genius of that choice. Such a decision is not entirely unprecedented, after all; Wasn’t it exciting to see Tilda Swinton land at the end of “Constantine” in 2005 as the Archangel Gabriel? It was good.

Christie has a similar attraction. She masterfully wields her 6ft 3in height on screen and on stage and uses her physique and regal skittishness to tower over Tom Sturridge’s Dream in the scenes they share.

The actor also looks more like the golden-haired vision of Lucifer’s graphic novel than Tom Ellis’ raven-haired devil at the center of the popular 2016 TV series of that name. There again, who does not say that they are not the same being?

Gaiman described the devil as somewhat of a chameleon and, as he reminded readers in a recent New York Times interview, without gender: “We see Lucifer naked,” he said. “There’s nothing between Lucifer’s legs!”

This could also be true of this Lucifer. But who would dare to ask?

The sand manEleanor Fanyinka as Rachel and Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine in “The Sandman” (Liam Daniel/Netflix)

Johanna Constantin

“The Sandman” cuts several familiar links to the popular DC Universe from its script. For example, the mental health facility where David Thewlis’ John Dee is being held isn’t called Arkham, one of many changes to that character’s profile. In the comics, Rose Walker’s companion, Lyta Hall (Razane Jammal), has a very famous mother.

Casual “Sandman” readers can’t ignore Jenna Coleman’s Johanna Constantine, a detective, con artist, magician, and master of the occult whose storyline is similar to that of John Constantine. Constantine is featured prominently in graphic novels and starred in his own DC series, “Hellblazer.” He was also played by Keanu Reeves and Welsh actor Matt Ryan, who garnered enough supporters based on his portrayal in a 2014 NBC series Too Soon to sway DC to hire Ryan to voice Constantine in its comedy films. animation.

All of this is to say that if a producer doesn’t cast one of these actors, introducing a new character, albeit one spun off from an existing character, makes more sense.

Coleman, a popular “Doctor Who” sidekick, fulfills a dual role as present-day Johanna and her adventurous ancestor who crosses paths with Dream in the 1700s (as seen in the episode “The Sound of Her Wings”) ). Johanna de Coleman plays it cool but lacks John’s guts and bad temper. She dresses to navigate polite society but, like the hero of “Hellblazer”, she is haunted by her failures and demonic nightmares.

Johanna is also kinder to her ex-girlfriend than John is to his, though the woman she dumped also succumbs to Dream’s sandbag addiction. In response to a fan mourning Johanna’s lack of disgust, Gaiman said, “I think the self-loathing is there. She just hides it better.” We might see more spill over into the second season.

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The sand manVivienne Acheampong as Lucienne in “The Sandman” (Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix)


If “The Sandman” graphic novels were favored by emo and goth kids, The Dreaming’s head librarian Lucien was the patron hero of extreme books. Skinny, polite, and extremely loyal, he maintains The Dreaming as best he can during his ruler’s century-long absence.

Vivienne Acheampong’s Lucienne plays a similar role but with enhanced agency. She behaves with infallible calm, elegance and quiet strength. She is the voice of reason, just like her counterpart on the page. But she also resists his arrogant displays when they jeopardize the integrity of their existence and plays a direct role in helping Dream protect their home from a cosmic threat called the Dream Vortex. Lucienne is also one of the few beings that Dream can be vulnerable to – and the only one to whom he admits that he may not be as omniscient as he claims.

People who know what it’s like to hold it all together with grace and without gratitude can identify with Lucienne of Acheampong and her situation more closely than with that of Morpheus – which takes nothing away from the Lord of Dreams, notice. On the contrary, he recognizes that every being needs someone to watch their backs and stay out of trouble. In this case, that task falls to one of the most capable women in the universe. Why wouldn’t it be?

All episodes of “The Sandman” are currently streaming on Netflix.

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about Neil Gaiman and “The Sandman”