I recently watched The Dolls House episode of The Sandman. After having been disappointed with the adaptation of American Gods, I had declined to consume the television adaptation of the Sandman, a work that hold a profound place in my emotional and spiritual development. Even when most skillfully adapted, the transitory and paced nature of a story as deep and far-removed from common existence cannot be as profound an experience as one would have in print. In print one can flip back and forth to puzzle out hints and foreshadows, one can dwell on a particular piece of dialog and read it over and over if it seems to have some profound insight to offer. Rewinding and seeking audiovisual media does not offer the same experience.
Alas, my wife was not able to get into the Sandman comics, and a colleague of hers recommended the show, so we resolved to find some time to watch it together. As is the norm today, adjustments to the characters were made to make the cast more diverse. In principle I find this a reasonable choice, but I am of the opinion this something that needs be done with care, and that buried within the toxicity of the anti-woke propaganda there is a core truth that should be recognized. This goal of this article to explore this within the choices made in The Sandman.
By the time I was finished with episode “24/7” I was impressed. There were a number of completely unnecessary adaptations to the source material, but the desired goal was accomplished with no harm. For example, Lucienne was white in the comic and Vivienne Acheampog is not, but she’s a good actress and plays the role well. While “24/7” had extensive adaptions to the source material, the spirit, impact and meaning of the original source had been excellently accomplished.
I had a shock when I realized they had made the decision to make Rose and her brother black as we are later to find out that Rose is the descendant of a wealthy English heiress, Unity Kinkaid, and Dreams’ sibling Desire. I considered that there were a number of ways that this could be managed in a thoughtful manner — Desire could be cast with a black actor or actress which would have been a bit complicated but relatively harmless. The Kincaid family could have been a member of a vanishingly small number of wealthy and/or privileged people that may have been in existence in England circa WWI.
This was not the case. In “The Dolls House” we learn that Rose’s ancestral wealth comes from owning a large sugar concern. I contend the following: For a person who cares about healing the harms of racism this should be a far more offensive decision than an all-white cast might have been. The sugar industry has been one of the historic drivers of racism and slavery. It was the introduction of slavery that turned sugar into common comodity and to ignore this is to white wash historical and institutional racism, and in turn the wealth generated by the sugar industry was one of driving forces behind slavery and racism in the British empire. It is like having a black American character find out they are the descendant of a wealthy black cotton plantation owner.
This phenomenon is not difficult to find. In one episode of Doctor Who, The Doctor travels back in time to Texas in the 50’s and has an encounter with a black police officer in Texas which simply ignores the history of racism in the U.S. In the film version of Captain America’s origin story we works together with the howling commandos, amongst whose members can be found both a black man and a Japanese American. This whitewashes aspects of American history which are vital to understanding both the dangers of racism and the troubles we suffer today. During WWII, the American Army, Navy and Marine corps segregated black units as they were believed to be less capable than their white colleagues. I am of the opinion that the dichotomy between the propaganda of the Allied forces and the racist policies of America was on the seeds that grew into the civil rights movent of the 50’s and 60’s. The inclusion of the Japanese American soldier is even more offensive as we should all be aware that Japanese Americans were kept prisoner in internment camps, under the assumption that all Japanese Americans would be best consider as Japanese agents.
I believe that these decisions show that many times the decisions being made in the name of increased diversity of often badly motivated and harmful. At best they are simply performative. At worst I suspect ignorance and malicious compliance. I think a simple driving force here is a checkbox mentality — did we get all the right demographics in this cast, over more meaningful but difficult to measure criteria, for example do we have content here that reinforces or encourages racism or bigotry? In the examples I have given the former are satisfied to the detriment of the latter, but it is the latter that we should be concerned with. In other words, lets be more critical and analytical in our cultural criticisms.
I think this has lessons towards the ongoing culture wars. In the oppositional debate between the work and the anti-woke, the most unreasonable and unreasoned voices are amplified, and important concerns are silenced, leading to a dumbing down of the conversation. This debilitates our ability to actually tackle important social concerns we are facing. We ignore important criticisms for fear that they give ammunition to the other.