When The Sandman was initially published in 1989, Neil Gaiman‘s horror-fantasy comic series was praised as a groundbreaking piece of art, aided by the surreal and often unnerving illustrations by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, Marc Hempel, and Michael Zulli. The story of the anthropomorphic personification of Dream as he returns to his realm after a decades-long imprisonment was striking in its blending of reality and fantasy — and a fair few DC characters, beloved and otherwise — set against the gritty contemporary backdrop of the ’90s. But what would The Sandman look like if it were updated to the 2020s? That’s what Netflix’s The Sandman adaptation will find out, according to Gaiman, who revealed that the 11-episode series will update the story’s late ’80s and early ’90s setting.
In an interview with Digital Spy, Gaiman revealed that the upcoming Netflix adaptation of The Sandman, which he executive produce and co-write alongside showrunner Allan Heinberg and executive producer David Goyer, will take place in 2021:
“The Netflix version is going to begin in 2021, so Morpheus will have been kept prisoner in the Netflix version for 105 years rather than 70 years…We’ll take that one, see what that does. It’s already in the scripts, it does interesting things because… if we were creating this character now, what gender would the character be? If we were creating the character now, who would they be? What would they be doing? And going on from there.”
As Gaiman teases, this could create an interesting ripple effect for our perception of the title character, who has long been depicted as an inhuman being that transcends gender and race. In the second volume of The Sandman, “The Doll’s House,” published in 1991, it’s revealed that the popular image of Morpheus as a pale man with a shock of black hair is just one manifestation of him — he can take on the aspect of whatever culture he presents himself to, and often shifts appearance (and gender) based on the shifting narratives. Dream’s other “siblings,” The Endless, are also often depicted as androgynous figures especially the genderfluid Desire, who appears as the most desirable form of whomever is seeing them.
This could potentially present some problems not only for the TV show’s ability to portray shifting perspectives in live-action, but for contemporary views of gender identity, which have progressed past the well-meaning but somewhat clumsy depictions in the comics. Will Netflix cast transgender or androgynous actors in the roles of the Endless? Will they attempt to update the explorations of gender identity to fit contemporary understanding?
Those are things that Gaiman and his co-writers, as well as the show’s casting directors, will have to keep in mind as preparation for The Sandman Netflix series continues. The Sandman was intended to begin shooting at the end of May, Gaiman revealed, but production has been delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, Gaiman has told /Film in an interview ahead of The Sandman Audible series that the production design for the series is well underway, raving, “I get these emails of production design stuff on Netflix’s Sandman, and I just want to show them to everybody and I know that I can’t, they’re incredibly confidential. But I look at them and I glow. The other day they sent me Lucifer’s Castle and the Gates to Hell and all of these Hell designs and I’m just like this is amazing!”
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