The Queer Joy of “American Gods” and Its Diversity


American Gods Paley CenterGetty Images

Last night the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills in conjunction with GLAAD hosted an early screening of episode three along with a discussion and Q&A with various cast and crew, including author Neil Gaiman, co-creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, and Mousa Kraish and Omid Abtahi.

The episode, in and of itself another strong showing for the series, among the many story beats it covers, depicts the story of Salim (Abtahi) and an ifrit known as the Jinn (Kraish), a gay relationship between two Middle Eastern men. I won’t write much about the scenes themselves so as not to spoil anything for those who are going to watch it for the first time come Sunday, but needless to say how the show portrays this interlude is a wonder in its tenderness and compassion.

Just as in the book, Salim and the Jinn help reveal the show’s emotional core and why it works so well narratively as well as on a deeper, more profound level.

As has been discussed since before the series first premiered at the end of April, the story of American Gods is about immigrants. What we have seen since, more importantly, is that it’s a story about the diversity of immigrants and a celebration in the exploration of this diversity, seen in this week’s episode with Orlando Jones’ Anansi and then further with Salim and the Jinn. Despite the presence of mythical and divine beings, these stories are inherently — and beautifully — human and it is the respect with which the show treats these stories that elevate what this show is doing with its diversity.

The cast and crew in the discussion following the screening reaffirmed the show’s conscious intention to do just this.

Moderator Marc Snetiker of Entertainment Weekly asked Fuller if Salim’s story is meant to be as a coming out story given his trepidation in first meeting the Jinn and the feelings he experiences. Fuller responded with a clear “no,” because queer stories are more than just coming out. “As a gay man looking at gay entertainment, there are a lot of coming out stories. We didn’t need it to be that,” he said.

“As a gay man looking at gay entertainment, there are a lot of coming out stories. We didn’t need it to be that,” he said.

It was a refreshing response to hear, given how many queer characters in film, television, and beyond have stories that revolve around hiding and subsequently revealing their identities. The coming out process is a continual one for members of the LBGBTQ communities, but it is not the only story or journey to be told.

It was similar for Gaiman who revealed, “Obviously there will be LGBTQ characters in here, because there are LGBTQ characters in life and amongst my friends.”

For Kraish, it was exciting to read a scene like this that was entirely positive and supportive. “Just seeing two Middle Eastern men represented in that way, with humor and love and joy… It’s taken me 11 years to get to that,” he explained.

A member of the audience doubled down on this when they asked a question, explaining how good it was to see media that didn’t depict people from the Middle East as villains (the beginning of the episode also focuses on a Muslim woman “somewhere in America”).

Beyond Salim and the Jinn, when an audience member asked, with “no shade,” how two white creators wrote and developed the scene of Anansi on the slave ship at the start of episode two, Fuller responded simply: “Hate is relatable.” He and Green then explained further and revealed that they also consulted Jones on the scene.

American Gods is deliberately diverse — it has to be with the story Gaiman originally wrote — but it’s not tokenism. Fuller and Green, as well as their room of writers and impressive cast, celebrates this diversity. As weird and dark as the show may be, it’s ultimately an exaltation of immigrants’ stories and, more importantly, the fact that these stories are unique and different and wonderful.

 | Associate Editor

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