Starz Response to Orlando Jones Firing

Starz’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods has had a troubled life on the network. After a successful first season, showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green exited in a dispute. Season 2 showrunner Jesse Alexander left before it aired. Season 3 has dropped cast members Orlando Jones and Mousa Kraish, with Jones claiming his firing was racially motivated.

Starz President and CEO Jeffrey Hirsch gave an executive session for the Television Critics Association on Tuesday. /Film asked for clarification on Jones’ firing, although Hirsch mostly backed up production company Freemantle’s version of event.

No room for Mr. Nancy

Jones posted a Twitter video on December 14, 2019 explaining why he was fired from American Gods, a firing which allegedly occurred September 10. Jones said season 3 showrunner Charles Eglee told Jones his character’s anger was “the wrong message for black America.” 

Freemantle responded saying the show was focusing on a section of the book that did not include Mr. Nancy. Hirsch confirmed that was the reason.

“Orlando’s a tremendous talent and actually more importantly, he’s a really great person,” Hirsch said. “The book is a very rich and dense book of story, and unfortunately the season that we’re putting up in Season 3, Mr. Nancy does not have a role in this story. And so, unfortunately, that’s the case of the book. It is one of the most diverse casts on television and we think Chic’s doing a great job and mounting a great show for us to come back for Season 3.”

Hirsch is correct that American Gods still represents a lot of diversity. Ricky Whittle, Yetide Badaki and Omid Abtahi are still main characters. Still, they didn’t fire the white guys. There are whole sections of the book Mr. Wednesday isn’t in, but Ian McShane still has a job. 

That still doesn’t explain ‘wrong message for black America’

Mr. Nancy does feature again later in the book, so it seems strange to terminate Jones rather than keep him available for future seasons. As for the message Jones allegedly received from Eglee, Hirsch wouldn’t comment.

“I’m not going to comment on the message that was sent,” Hirsch said. “Unfortunately, the book is a very, very rich book. It’s got a lot of depth to it. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but it’s over 800 pages of great story. And Chic and the team decided they’d be in an area where Mr. Nancy doesn’t play a prominent role. And so, that’s where we are. We think the show’s gonna be great. The fans are looking forward to coming back, and we’re pretty excited about it.”

It’s not like this adaptation has been slavish to the book. Laura Moon (Emily Browning) is hardly in the book and they gave Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) a much bigger role, so this was at their discretion. In situations like this, we didn’t really expect an executive to give a straight answer, and we can imagine how frustrating this must be for Jones to see play out.

Mousa Kraish didn’t make Charles Eglee’s cut either

The Jinn (Kraish) was another role elaborated upon by Fuller and Green. It looks like Eglee is taking a more literal approach to Gaiman’s book and excising characters to trim it back.

“Again, it’s where the story sits,” Hirsch said about letting Kraish go. “Again, it’s one of the most diverse casts on television and we’re excited for it to come back. And I think the fans will really enjoy it this year.”

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