The rich worlds of author Neil Gaiman (Coraline, Sandman) have captured readers’ imaginations for decades and led to many successful on-screen adaptations, of which Amazon Prime’s six-episode Anansi Boys hopes to join the ranks. The British novelist revealed, on his blog, that he will split time serving behind-the-scenes on Anansi Boys and Good Omens, an adaptation of Gaiman’s co-authored novel with Terry Prachett (The Colour of Magic, Wyrd Sisters) that was recently renewed for a second season at the streaming service.
— Amazon Prime Video UK (@primevideouk) July 21, 2021
When Anansi Boys, the story of the unknowing and estranged sons of trickster god Anansi, hit bookstore shelves as a New York Times Bestseller in 2005, Sir Lenny Henry (The Fosters, Penelope) lent his voice to the audiobook. However, Gaiman still had his heart set on bringing the story to screen one day. “Anansi Boys as a TV series has been a long time coming,” Deadline quotes Gaiman. “I first started working with Endor and Red on making it over a decade ago.”
According to Gaiman’s blog, one of the first opportunities the author had to bring Anansi Boys to life was from “a top Hollywood director wanted to buy the rights to Anansi Boys, but […] told me that he planned to make all the characters white.” Gaiman declined this offer and, nearly a decade later, the right crew came along to bring his story to life.
Though the short novel Anansi Boys centers on the sons of Starz’s American Gods character, Mr. Nancy, Wednesday’s announcement of the series from Amazon made a point to keep itself at an arms-length from this adaptation. The Hollywood Reporter recapped the drama behind-the-scenes of American Gods, including a series of unceremonious creative-turnovers, which they cite as partially responsible for the show’s cancellation.
Orlando Jones (Sleepy Hollow, Evolution), who played trickster god Anansi/Mr. Nancy in American Gods, will not be returning to reprise his role in Anansi Boys. Jones disclosed to fans that he was dropped from the series in 2019 by season three replacement showrunner, Charles Eglee (Dexter, Dark Angel), who said that “Mr. Nancy’s angry, get sh– done is the wrong message for Black America” (Instagram). However, The Hollywood Reporter shared that Eglee refuted this claim, citing Mr. Nancy’s absence from the chapters of American Gods that he was adapting in season three as the reason for the actor’s dismissal.
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Despite a bitter exit from American Gods, Jones thanked Gaiman for the creation of the character Mr. Nancy, inspired by conversations with longtime friend Henry. When Henry brought up the lack of opportunities for Black leads in the world of horror films, Gaiman responded “I’ll write you a horror movie you could star in” (Neil Gaiman’s Blog). Despite his intentions, while plotting Anansi Boys, Gaiman found a better fit for the story on the page.
— Douglas Mackinnon (@drmuig) July 21, 2021
Henry will reunite with Gaiman as a writer and executive producer on Anansi Boys, with Douglas Mackinnon (Good Omens, Sherlock), Hanelle M. Culpepper (Star Trek: Discovery, Criminal Minds), Hilary Bevan Jones (Deep State, Pirate Radio) and Richard Fee (Prey, Safe) filling out the executive producer lineup. Arvind Ethan David (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, While We Breathe), Kara Smith (Apple Tree House, Wild Space) and Racheal Ofori (Guns Akimbo, Enerprice) will join Gaiman and Henry in the writers room and Mackinnon will serve as Gaiman’s co-showrunner, via Deadline.
Directors on the series include Culpepper, Jermain Julien (Grantchester, Casualty) and Azhur Saleem (Muse). “I’d loved the pilot episode of Star Trek Picard, and talked to Michael Chabon about the director,” Gaiman spoke about bringing Culpepper on as Anansi Boys lead director on his blog. “and he gave her a rave recommendation as someone who could tell a story and stay in control of the technology.”
While there is no casting news yet to speak of, Gaiman told readers of his blog that he is absolutely thrilled about the behind-the-scenes team tasked with adapting his novel for Amazon. The writer did go on to tease a major performer in the series, by saying “I’ll give you one clue: one of our cast members was on a public event with me at some point in the last five years. The first thing she said when we met backstage was that her favourite book was the audiobook of Anansi Boys, read by Lenny Henry. And when I told her that there was a part in the book I’d originally written with her in mind, she was overjoyed. So when it became a reality, she was the first person I asked, and the first to agree” (Neil Gaiman’s Blog).
Though the name of that actress may soon be revealed, Gaiman and the crew are beginning pre-production in Scotland in the meantime. BBC specifically cites First Stage Studios in Leith as Anansi Boys filming location and claims that, between Good Omens and Anansi Boys, Gaiman’s Amazon projects have been “a major boost for the industry.”
While Amazon has staked its claim in the mythical Anansi Boys and Good Omens, Netflix has been charged with adapting one of Gaiman’s most heralded works, the comic book epic Sandman. Variety likewise cites Netflix transplant series, Lucifer, as loosely inspired by Gaiman’s work. According to The Hollywood Reporter, even the abruptly cancelled American Gods adaptation at Starz hopes to wrap up loose-ends in film or short-project, meaning Gaiman will remain a staple on television sets for quite some time.