Orlando Jones was fired from ‘American Gods’ because Black anger makes white people uncomfortable
They will never stop trying to take away our words, or trying to downplay our anger.
by Andrew Keahey
White supremacy doesn’t allow for Black anger. The second we get even mildly irritated in any way and make the mistake of actually showing it, we’re labeled as irrational, problematic, and even violent. You see it all the time. It’s one of the reasons twitchy white cops use to justify their brutality against us. They “perceive a threat” the moment we get upset because they’ve pulled us over for no reason, and the rest is fractured skulls and weeping mothers.
“Why are they so angry?” they ask. “If they just acted more rationally, and protested in a way that didn’t disrupt the norm, maybe we’d be more willing to hear their plight.” So we decided to kneel, which as we all know, went splendidly. We’re not allowed to be angry, we’re not allowed to be calm, and we’re not allowed to feel.
We can’t yell with a boot on our throats, which is why we find so much solace in media where we’re depicted as being able to say and do what we want. Watchmen is a prime example of this phenomenon, providing Black viewers with a kind of catharsis as we watch with glee while white supremacists are brutalized by Black heroes on a weekly basis. I can’t speak for everyone, but I wish it was me in there, breaking open my knuckles on the jaw of a klansmen. Many of us do.
But sometimes we don’t need hyperviolence. Sometimes all we need from a character on the screen is for them to say what we’re feeling, someone to stand up and simply speak for us. We hear our own thoughts fired back at us, and in that moment we feel heard, and less alone. A prime example of such a character was Mr. Nancy, the embodiment of the West African trickster god Anansi, portrayed by Orlando Jones in the Starz hit series American Gods, based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman. This is a character who existed outside of time, saying everything we often want to say, and he was not at all calm about it. He was pissed.
The first time we laid eyes on him, he was on a slave ship, answering the prayers of the captured Africans, breaking their chains so that they might slaughter their Dutch captors, burn the boat, and die free men. “Angry is good,” He declares knowingly. “Angry gets shit done.” As stated, it was the first of several epic moments and stirring monologues given by Mr. Nancy throughout the series, with Jones bringing the rage and fire that the character required in order to properly discuss our history… And that’s why he was fired, according to Jones.
“There will be no more Mr. Nancy. Don’t let these motherfuckers tell you they love Mr. Nancy. They don’t,” Jones explained in a video posted to Twitter and Facebook on December 14th. “I’m not going to name names but the new season 3 showrunner [Charles Eglee] is Connecticut born and Yale-educated, so he’s very smart and he thinks that Mr. Nancy’s angry, get shit done is the wrong message for Black America. That’s right. This white man sits in that decision-making chair and I’m sure he has many Black BFFs who are his advisors and made it clear to him that if he did not get rid of that angry god Mr. Nancy he’d start a Denmark Vesey uprising in this country. I mean, what else could it be?”
Now, American Gods has dealt with an awful lot of turbulence behind the scenes, with multiple big names leaving the project, an ever-changing tone that’s impossible to pin down, and different showrunners every season. It started as a very promising series with a lot of interesting representation and scenes invoking intense political discussion, but has ended up losing itself in its second season, with the focus being inexplicably recentered on a dead white woman played by Emily Browning, who is arguably the least interesting character of the entire affair.
Jones went on to explain in a subsequent tweet that he was actually fired all the way back on September 10th and specifically called out Fremantle Media for being a “nightmare” due to their toxic culture. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because they’re the same production company that fired Gabrielle Union from America’s Got Talent after she raised concerns about rampant racial insensitivity, including her receiving notes that her hairstyles were “too Black.” Union later responded to Jones’ tweet saying they should connect on the issue and using the hashtag “#StrongerTogether”.
“All I can say is what I was told.” Jones told Variety, “And all what I was told was, ‘angry gets shit done’ is the wrong message for Black America, and that the new showrunner [Charles Eglee] writes from a Black male perspective.”
Just so we’re perfectly clear here, Charles Eglee is not a Black man—no matter how much he wants to be—and it is not for him to decide the messages that Black America needs to hear. Jones was brought on in a much more hands-on role in season 2 , becoming a consulting producer, and taking over writing for Mr. Nancy and the other characters of color, which makes his sudden and unceremonious departure even more jarring and disruptive to the story being told.
The show now going in a “different direction” essentially means that they’re not interested in those minority stories going forward. It’s something we’re used to, but something we never stop being angry about. Eglee is just another mouthpiece for white supremacy, taking our words and experiences and running them through a filter so that they no longer pose a threat to the status quo, while still attempting to give the appearance of representation. I mean, just look at the guy, because there’s a whole lot to unpack here:
The reason we don’t see more intense and angry characters like Mr. Nancy in TV and media is because Black people make up such a small percentage of people in writers rooms. When they are actually present and ready to work, their voices are subdued and pushed down, much like Jones. It’s how we get minority characters who are just accessories to their white protagonist counterparts, or Black characters who—while they might lead their respective shows—feel hollow and voiceless; they might have a lot of lines, but they’re never really saying anything.
All too often these shows fall deservedly by the wayside, as there’s nothing left for anyone watching to connect with, and it’s a fate that American Gods is all but guaranteeing for itself with the latest move. The new normal is an empty pantomime designed by white America to not ruffle any feathers or light any fires, but with flashy visuals that can still dazzle and delight without the need for substance. I can’t imagine a worse fate for a story.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t even the first time this particular property has had to contend with whitewashing. In a tweet from January of 2016, American Gods author Neil Gaiman confirmed that he’d turned down an offer to turn his spinoff novel Anansi Boys into a motion picture, because the pitch he received sought to make the two main characters—both sons of the West African god Anansi—white.
They will never stop trying to take away our words, or trying to downplay our anger. They will continue to gaslight Black people until their voices fail them, and they will instruct everyone around them to do the same, because if they can’t maintain their narratives and their spin, then everything spirals and they lose control, like a speeding car on an icy road.
Orlando Jones is risking a lot to tell his side of this. It’s a perspective that we rarely get to see for fear of industry retribution. Too often in situations such as these, those speaking out are labeled as “troublemakers” or “difficult to work with” which can be career ending in and of itself. I, for one, thank him for his bravery and candor in the matter, and hope that this is enough to shine a light on these unfair practices being used against Black people by Fremantle Media and the industry at large, and finally illicit some change. Jones has brought his fight to the people, and the people are angry… And angry gets shit done.
Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry. Find him on Twitter: @formaldehydefce