Neil Gaiman’s adaptation of American Gods on Starz was back with its second episode last night and it's still weird as ever. I’m actually having a hard time grasping onto the surreal elements of the show. The trees are bloody, for crying out loud. I’m not sure what I expected on a show about demigods, but it wasn’t this. Even the full frontal male nudity was weird. Still, there have been some singular shining moments that definitely stand out. People being sucked into a vagina in both the first episode and again last night is definitely a highlight of the show. However, I think we can all agree that the best scene came to us courtesy of Orlando Brown in a tacky, plaid suit. But his message was dark and grim.
In the opening scene, a shackled African man, confused and frightened by his current state, calls out to Anansi (an African deity with Ghanaian roots) for guidance and rescue. Folklore describes Anansi, also known as Aunt Nancy in the American South, as a spider who can take the form of man. American Gods took advantage of both variations for this episode. A colorful, hairy, and terrifying spider begins to make its way down plank of wood. The man who is, unbeknownst to him, a woul-be slave en route to America via the Middle Passage, laments that he can’t find his mother and doesn’t know why he’s in chains. Eventually the spider morphs into a man in an equally colorful suit. He goes by Mr. Nancy and does not come bearing good news.
Mr. Nancy, played by Brown, tells the man that his mother is dead for refusing sex to one of their enslavers. And when pressed further for help by the man, Mr. Nancy launches into monologue that orates the entire history of Black people in America, from slavery and the construction of race itself, to the current culture of violence between police and Black communities and unemployment. It begins: “Once upon a time, a man got fucked.” Truer words have never been spoken.
We are in a political climate where racial tensions are high. People of color know that this actually just means higher than normal. And many of us know why. Yet, reintroducing slavery as the historical source for centuries of oppression and discrimination is considered a faux pas or cop out. Whether we like it or not, Black people’s ongoing, institutionalized disenfranchisement is a residual effect of our classifications as less than human during slavery. Brown put on one hell of a performance while reminding us of that.