I’ll say up front that I am an American Gods virgin. I’ve never read the book, so I went into this entire season blind. Heck, I still don’t know exactly what I witnessed in my three-episode binge-watch, but I do know these three things:
1. Shadow Moon might be foine, but he’s annoying. He’s a character whose characterization is both inconsistent and nonexistent. How much magic has to happen around you before you believe in these gods, Shadow? You’ve got the freaking moon as a coin your pocket for goodness’ sake!
2. I’m liking all of the “Somewhere in America” scenes better than the actual storyline. If the show was just a meditation on the old gods and how they are trying to both fit in the new world order and keep their dignity (plus gain some worshippers in the process), that’d be fine by me. The less I have to see Shadow Moon dismiss the clear reality of gods, the better.
3. Salim and the Jinn’s “Somewhere in America” vignette might be the best one so far.
I was heavily spoiled by Twitter before watching these episodes (not complaining about it), so I already knew about Bliquis swallowing people with her vagina and Mr. Nancy/Anansi telling his worshippers–now captive slaves on a surprisingly clean-looking slave ship–how the African people will be royally screwed in America. With all of the hype, I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but I probably would have been more “OMG!” about it all if I hadn’t known anything about those scenes. At the same time, there’s a lot of fodder to discuss, from the arguments that could be made for and against using a black woman’s body (Bliquis, the fertility and love goddess) to discuss sex and/or sexual objectification, to the haunting nature of Anansi telling his people the horrors they were in store for. No doubt I will write some articles on these very topics. But for right now, I’m voicing my opinion that for me, the Jinn and Salim are the heartbeat of American Gods. Here’s why.
• The Jinn, like all the gods, is seeking his former glory. But unlike other gods, he isn’t stealing worship. What I loved about the Jinn is that, compared to gods like Bliquis, Odin/Mr. Wednesday, Czernobog and even Mad Sweeney, the Jinn doesn’t demand tribute in the form of war, sexual conquests, fighting, or killing. Instead, it seems like the Jinn just demands respect. Sure, all the gods want respect, but the way the Jinn complains about his lot in life is more earnest and relatable than any of the gods so far. He seems to yearn for human connections in a much more intimate way than his fellow gods. Furthermore, his humiliation at having to taxi people around in New York City, hearing Americans believe the Jinn are just wish-fulfillment dieties, and cleaning up “wet shit” from the back seat rings much closer to real life issues people of color have had to historically deal with in America, such as cleaning white people’s homes to being thought of as stereotypes, to just feeling anonymous, with not many understanding your real power and worth. On several levels, the Jinn is just more relatable than some of the other gods as a whole.
The Jinn’s happiness comes from finding someone who finally understands what he’s going through. To be even more specific, the Jinn and Salim’s taxi ride was a scene all about code-switching. To be with someone from Oman seemed to take him back to a time when he was at home and was powerful, but most importantly, at peace. Again, that resonates with the very real feeling of being the only person of color in a white space and finally catching the eye of another person of color who gets exactly what you’re feeling through your shared history. You feel like you don’t have to navigate the space by yourself; you can voice your real self to that other person, and more than likely, they’ll understand. Talking with Salim and having that human connection made the Jinn feel home, and he was able to be himself, which was more valuable to The Jinn than stealing someone’s worship.
• The Jinn and Salim are linked together as equals. Out of all of the gods, the Jinn and Salim’s story had the most calming and most normal resolution. With the rest of the gods, something has to be given to the gods, but the gods don’t give back anything in return. Instead, the Jinn and Salim’s story showcases a give-and-take that makes their relationship a lot more realistic and makes the entire scene a standout in the midst of the “Somewhere in America” scenes we’ve had so far. Salim worships the Jinn by showing him respect, compassion, and care; the Jinn worships Salim by empowering him through making love and leaving Salim with his identity as a taxi driver. The Jinn continues to thank Salim for his kindness by taking on his job as a tchotchke salesman.
Let me expound some more on the term “making love.” Usually, that’s a term I hate. I’ve never even uttered it in real life before, I hate it that much. Perhaps it’s because we as a human race sometimes interchange the phrase with “having sex,” even though the two are completely different acts. Anyone can have sex; it takes a special moment and a special person to actually say you’ve “made love” to someone, I think. I’m also a person who believes there is a such thing as a cosmic sexual experience (i.e. expanding your consciousness via tantra and tantric sex, etc.), and that’s what Salim experienced with the Jinn. The Jinn truly did worship Salim through this act, which is huge, since it’s not like Salim’s a god. But Salim’s interaction with The Jinn meant so much to him that, in the Jinn’s mind, Salim is on a high enough pedestal to be worshipped like a god.
At the same time, the Jinn gave Salim permission to be himself. As has been said in various articles, Salim is used to having intercourse quickly, cleanly, and in secretive places. I’m sure that for Salim, there’s a certain amount of shame associated with sex as well. To quote showrunner Bryan Fuller from The Hollywood Reporter:
“To portray Salim and the Jinn in a way that’s sex positive for a gay man who comes from a country where homosexuality is punishable by death and you can be thrown off of a rooftop. It was very important to us to look at Salim’s story as a gay man from the Middle East whose sexual experience was probably relegated to back alley blowjobs and didn’t have an intimate personal sexual experience. In the book, Salim blows the Jinn in the hotel, and then he’s gone. It was important for us in this depiction to have Salim drop to his knees and prepare to achieve sex the way he’d been accustomed to, and the Jinn lifts him off of his knees and kisses him and treats him much more soulfully and spiritually to change this perception of who is is and what his sexual identity has become. That felt like it was empowering in a different way, showing a protagonist as the one who is being penetrated. That comes with all sorts of preconceptions of gender roles and what it is to be a gay man at the same time.”
I’d go so far as to say that Salim is the only one so far who has encountered a god and came away with a positive experience. If anyone has faith in any of these gods, it’d seem like Salim has the most reason to have faith in his Jinn.
• The Jinn is one of the few gods that actually feel like characters you can identify with. Perhaps I should speak for myself–the Jinn is one of the few god characters I feel like I can identify with. Maybe it’s how Mousa Kraish speaks while in character–the accent he gives the Jinn and the timbre of his voice sounds rich and musical–but I get where the Jinn is coming from. I don’t get that with Wednesday, Czernobog, or, heck, most of the gods we’ve met so far. Too many of these gods are opportunistic, and that’s not a criticism; I think that’s part of what the show is exploring. But Kraish’s Jinn looks and sounds like an earthy, warm protector. He wants what all us human want, which is to be understood, respected, and seen for who he is–he also requires no frills, unlike the other gods. I get that.
I’ll say again that I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if any of my current feelings towards the Jinn with change (I hope they don’t). But as for right now, I’m all about the Jinn and Salim and I can’t wait to spend more time with them.
For more on Salim, the Jinn, and American Gods, check out this Ars Technica podcast featuring award-winning fantasy author and critic Amal El-Mohtar, who gives her insights on the treatment of Arabic and Middle Eastern identity in American Gods so far.
There’s a couple of big ticket items to discuss! Topping the list is Star Wars: Episode VIII, Ava DuVernay’s projects, and some trailers from Roots and Underground.
Star Wars: Episode VIII
The biggest news of this week is the beginning of filming for Star Wars: Episode VIII! John Boyega, who just won a Rising Star BAFTA the night before filming, tweeted out this declaration Monday.
First day on Star Wars 8 complete ! We must face them! Fight them!
— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) February 15, 2016
Other big news surrounding Episode VIII is the additional casting. Coming to the already diverse cast list are Benecio Del Toro, Laura Dern and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, who has worked with Sarah Hyland in XOXO and has various TV credits, including TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything and NBC’s About a Boy.
Star Wars released this official production announcement, which is also marks the start of the Star Wars hype machine once again.
Ava DuVernay’s film and TV projects
Ava DuVernay is doing major things right now! First, she’s working with Oprah on the OWN adaptation of Queen Sugar. The first table read happened Sunday, and DuVernay chronicled it on Twitter:
— Queen Sugar (@QueenSugarOWN) February 15, 2016
Also, DuVernay is in contention to direct two films: the film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (a very creepy book, if you ask me), and Intelligent Life, a sci-fi thriller potentially starring Lupita Nyong’o. The latter film is what’s exciting me the most, since black women in sci-fi is still a revolutionary thing to see (Nyong’o also’s got her sci-fi scorecard filled up thanks to Star Wars, but even in that, she’s simply voicing a character, not appearing as herself on screen, something a lot of viewers took issue with). But all of this directorial news is encouraging, given the #OscarsSoWhite climate we’re in. DuVernay’s upcoming jobs are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to Hollywood fixing its diversity-behind-the-camera problems, but her opportunities do show that 1) Hollywood can act responsibly when it feels like it; it’s ineffectiveness is just mostly due to laziness and status-quo thinking over anything and 2) that the talent of people of color (in this case, women of color) can and will be recognized, despite the fractured systems that were created to keep them out and on the sidelines.
Roots and Underground
The trailers for History’s Roots remake and WGN’s upcoming slave series Underground have left me impressed, and I’m sure you’ll be just as impressed by them as well. Below are the trailers as well as the Underground first look. On a shallow note: Kunta Kinte’s turbans are my favorite things ever. Roots premieres Memorial Day; Underground premieres March 9.
The Danish Girl
If you loved The Danish Girl, it’s coming to DVD/Blu-ray March 1. If you want to rewatch it even earlier than that, the digital download will be available Feb. 16.
Here are the pertinent deets via Universal Pictures’ press release:
With love comes the courage to be yourself in The Danish Girl, coming to Digital HD onFebruary 16, 2016, and Blu-ray™, DVD and On Demand on March 1, 2016, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Inspired by the lives of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, the remarkable love story is “a cinematic landmark,” according to Variety’s Peter Debruge. The Danish Girl on Blu-ray™ and DVD comes with an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film. The Focus Features release is nominated for four Academy Awards® including Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne), Best Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander), Best Costume Design (Paco Delgado), and Best Production Design (Production Designer, Eve Stewart; Set Decorator, Michael Standish).
Academy Award® winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Academy Award® nominee Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) star for Academy Award®-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech and Les Misérables). In the 1920s, a strong and loving marriage evolves as Gerda Wegener (Vikander) supports Lili Elbe (Redmayne) during her journey as a transgender woman. Through the other, each of them finds the courage to be who they are at heart. “Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are sensational!” declares Access Hollywood’s Scott Mantz, while Debruge of Variety raves, “Redmayne gives the greatest performance of his career.”
Also starring Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), Sebastian Koch (Homeland), Amber Heard (Zombieland), and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far from the Madding Crowd), The Danish Girl is a moving and sensitive portrait that Lou Lumenick of The New York Post calls “a remarkable and timely story.”
BLU-RAYTM AND DVD BONUS FEATURE:
The Making of The Danish Girl – Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Tom Hooper, and others on the filmmaking team share some of the creative processes that enhanced the beauty of the movie.
|Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!|
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