Don’t like the ‘woke’ casting of Netflix’s ‘Sandman’ series? Neil Gaiman doesn’t care

Neil Gaiman next to a bright light
“The dogs bark, but the caravan marches on,” author Neil Gaiman says about a recent “Sandman” casting dust-up.
(Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

Neil Gaiman’s revered comic book series “The Sandman” from the ’80s and ’90s is finally being made into a television series for Netflix.

The comic was a genre-busting, gender-bending horror-ish fantasia that simply didn’t care about convention. So when self-proclaimed fans objected to the show casting nonbinary and Black actors, how did they think Gaiman would react?

They might not have thought this one through before tagging him in anti-”woke” tweets. One poster accused him of “selling out,” not “standing by his work” and “not giving a f—.”


Gaiman responded, “I give all the f—s about the work. I spent 30 years successfully battling bad movies of Sandman.

“I give zero f—s about people who don’t understand/ haven’t read Sandman whining about a non-binary Desire or that Death isn’t white enough. Watch the show, make up your minds.”

Author Neil Gaiman’s beloved comic book series “The Sandman” is headed to the small screen.

July 1, 2019

On May 26, Netflix announced new casting choices for the 2022 series, along with Gaiman’s comments endorsing them. These included picks for two of the comics’ key characters, Death and Desire (siblings of protagonist Dream, a.k.a. Morpheus).

In the comics, Death is usually depicted as a pale, white (perhaps gray) goth girl but, like other eternal beings known as “The Endless,” she also takes other forms. Desire has always been depicted as androgynous (described by sibling Despair as “sister-brother” and acknowledged by Gaiman as “they/them” in a 2017 blog post).

Kirby Howell-Baptiste (“Cruella,” “Barry,” “Killing Eve”), who is Black, was announced as the actor playing Death. Mason Alexander Park, who is nonbinary and best known as the lead in the national tour of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” will play Desire.

A spectral being has helped define a fantasy writer who’s stretched comic books’ horizons.

Dec. 29, 2008

Perhaps surprisingly, considering how fluid so many aspects of the comic and its characters are, online commenters attacked the casting choices for being “woke.”


“OHHHH....Twitter is about to speed-dial ‘the Kindly Ones’ w/ this WOKE casting,” wrote one. “It’s OVER. Stephen King, Kevin Smith & now NEIL f’ing Gaimen [sic] - ALL SOLD OUT their 90’s selves to WOKE SJW culture. There is NO ONE Left - Nothing left of my childhood- Thanks Neil.”

Another tweeted, “i feel this so hard. like DC straight up is just ruining s— for the sake of seeming woke. but marvel?marvel can do all the s— right, characters look like off the pages, but DC? ‘ f— the characters, try to reach new young woke fans’ who legit dont read or care for the comics.”

A knowledgeable fan responded with receipts that “Death is shown as Chinese (and alien) at one point, so it’s canon that the Endless transcend appearance. In issue 9 Dream is black and explicitly refers to Grandmother Death, who obviously would not here look pale grey. Howell-Baptiste is a fine actress, don’t worry.”

Gaiman retweeted that post.

A drawing of the protagonist of "The Sandman"
The main character in “The Sandman,” Neil Gaiman’s 1990s comic series.

Fans of the comics, in which Dream takes many forms, tweeted panels of the character manifesting as a giant flaming head, a cat and a flower: “Bite your tongue! Dream can obviously only truly be played by a white flower on a tall stem with dark, resplendent leaves. This speciesbending will not stand.”

Gaiman retweeted all three of those too, as well as numerous posts of fan art inspired by Howell-Baptiste’s casting.

The nonbinary revolution has come to TV. But writers, actors and advocates say excitement over numbers is “foolish” if it doesn’t come with creative power.

Dec. 14, 2020

He also endorsed a rendering of Desire by artist Anneli Larsson that depicts the character as the very picture of androgyny. “He/she is the personification of desire itself and is both male and female, but not in a hipster way more like a mysterious, magic-y sort of way,” Larsson wrote in a statement accompanying the rendering on her site. A fan tweeted the image with the text, “Wait... people are mad that Desire is non-binary? This Desire?”

Gaiman responded, “That’s the one.”

Another fan tweeted, “Desire. Mad that DESIRE isn’t affixed to one gender. Have these people read Sandman?”

Gaiman replied, “I don’t think so, no.”


When a user wrote, “Worst casting ever I’m selling my entire neil gaiman collection if anyone wants it such a disappointment,” Gaiman channeled John Gielgud‘s bone-dry butler character from “Arthur”: “I’ll alert the media.”

The fallout continued through Tuesday as Gaiman, whose comics also spawned the TV show “Lucifer,” posted, “It just reached peak silly, when a well-meaning person told me that casting a black actress as Death was as untrue to the character as it would be to make Mazikeen (portrayed in Lucifer by black actress ) white. And I had to explain that in the comics, she was. @LesleyAnnBrandt”

Reimagining comic characters for the big screen is nothing new. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Valkyrie, Ghost and (infamously) the Ancient One are among those who have been gender- and/or race-swapped, as are several in the upcoming “Eternals.” DC’s Aquaman had always been blond and fair-skinned in the comics; Hawaiian Native American (and German and Irish) Jason Momoa ain’t that. But “Aquaman” is by far the highest-grossing DCEU film to date.

Through it all, Gaiman has remained philosophical. In response to another author saying he might be fortunate to be less popular than Gaiman because he hadn’t caught flak for the color- and gender-blind casting of his own project, Gaiman tweeted, “You may get transient grumbles, but people always grumble. The dogs bark, but the caravan marches on. Make good art.”