Be warned: this post contains sex and blatant deity favoritism. During a press event for the upcoming Starz show American Gods, showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green mused on comic book pantheons, the nature of worship, and the unique challenges of adapting “god sex” from Neil Gaiman’s novel to the screen.
This might seem like an odd juxtaposition, but if you’ve read American Gods you know that the book tackles sexuality in a unique way. Since many of the book’s divine figures come from a time when sex was simply part of worship, there are several scenes of amorous encounters between humans and deities. This led to particular challenges for the showrunners.
First, the blatant favoritism! Asked to pick a favorite god from any pantheon, Michael Green threw down a divine gauntlet with The Beyonder. “He’s kind of omnipotent, basically put Yahweh in the comic! And what’s the first thing he’s going to do? Make them all fight.” Fuller went with a similarly comics-influenced answer: “The first god—or I guess demigod—I was actively fascinated with was Wonder Woman. And that was… as a young gay kid my favorite characters were Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman, and Princess Leia. They were the ones I responded to, because I didn’t identify with the male characters…because I was different than them.” Green nodded, and then pointed out, “We just did a Marvel/DC thing here!”
The two also discussed the philosophy behind the sexuality on the show. They were guided by a need to give attention to a broad spectrum of sexuality. Fuller particularly wanted to highlight same-sex love scenes as a corrective to past film experiences:
There are experiences that I’ve had going to movies and watching a sex scene…where the audience cringes and boos because it’s a same-sex couple. I remember seeing The Color Purple and people gasping and jeering when there was the suggestion of a sex scene between these women, and in Prelude to a Kiss, when Alec Baldwin kissed the elderly man the audience freaked out…we wanted to remove as many prejudices as we could by making it beautiful.
This came to the fore in a scene between a young man from Oman, Salim, and a Djinn who has found work as an American cab driver. Green and Fuller discussed adapting the book:
Salim and the Djinn was a story that we both remembered. And that resonated to us in completely different ways. It was so romantic, and the fact that they were gay and Muslim was secondary to the romance. And telling the story of Salim in the book the sex scene is a blowjob in a hotel. [For the show] we felt like the Djinn in this romantic gesture wanted to give him a more intimate sexual experience. Also we wanted to be incredibly visual and gorgeous, wanted to convey a sense of sexuality cinematically.
The only note from Starz Standards and Practices was that they needed to tone down one moment so that it appeared “pornographic” rather than becoming “pornography”. Green emphasized, “As long as the sexuality was rooted in character, and was something integral as opposed to something cuttable, then it would be something we could stand behind.”
Fuller described trying to write and shoot the scene as a “communion” between the two men: “There’s something to the god-sex on the show that is much more spiritual.”
They approached the infamous Bilquis scene in the same spirit. Fuller mentioned how important the role was to the actor, Yetide Badaki, saying, “It’s fascinating to talk to Yetide, who grew up in Nigeria in a society where women weren’t allowed to have ownership of their sexuality, were not allowed to have sexual pleasure, for her as an actor to come in and play this woman who is so empowered by her sexuality and in control of it.” And Green downplayed the physical difficulties of shooting the scene between Bilquis and worshiper, instead emphasizing the emotional resonance of the scene.
What are you willing to give to your god, and what is god willing to accept from you? What is the largest gift you can give? You body. Your life.
Fuller and Green also discussed their plans to expand the pantheon beyond the scope of the novel’s. They’ve already added extra “Coming to America” sections to this season, including one where Mexican immigrants bring a version of Jesus across the border into Texas. But assuming that the show continues we’ll get to see a variety of deities. Fuller said that one thing he regrets was that “we couldn’t hit all the continents, because there are so many gods. We haven’t gotten to any Asian gods. There are many fascinating ones that we want to incorporate into the narrative. So we’re going to be doing a mix of what’s in the book and also new gods—er, well, new old gods to us. We’re fascinated with their stories and want to see how they manifest. What are the rules of thoughtform? If you believe in it enough you can manifest it in reality. That is the central thesis of this show, but how does that apply to those types of characters who may not be gods but are worshiped as gods?”
After a lively conversation that ranged from Marvel to DC to divine sex, we’re curious, I can’t wait to see how the pantheon expands!