Movies & TV

Why Neil Gaiman Called The Sandman's Jenna Coleman the 'Best Constantine' So Far

Fans were troubled when Netflix gender-swapped John Constantine’s character, but Neil Gaiman couldn’t be more pleased. 
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Netflix’s The Sandman is just hours from release, and fans couldn’t be more excited for the long-awaited comic book adaptation. The Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman were first released in 1989, and are still arguably one of the best and most beloved stories in the DC Comics universe. Nevertheless, it took almost 30 years to get a screen adaptation made, and it goes without saying that expectations are high. Fans are equally excited and anxious about the Netflix adaptation, especially considering that major character elements have been changed.

To fit the times, a number of things have been altered. Lucifer, now gender-ambiguous, is played by Gwendoline Christie; Death, drawn as a Caucasian teenager, is now played by a Black woman, and Dream’s librarian Lucienne was changed to a woman. 

But the biggest change from the books was the gender-swapping of John Constantine into Johanna Constantine, an entirely new character who happens to be the ancestor of the DC Comics character John. Unsurprisingly, purists were calling the switch unnecessarily “woke” and detrimental to the story, but it looks like that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Because according to the creator of The Sandman comics, Jenna Coleman’s portrayal of Johanna Constantine is the best Constantine the screen has ever seen. 

In an interview with Slash Film, Neil Gaiman had only good things to say about Coleman’s role in the film: “I think Jenna is the best Constantine on screen so far, and weirdly somehow the truest, because she both has the humor, and the attractiveness, and that sleazy, doomed quality. You know that if you fall in love with her, you are dead and demon-fodder. And you also know that you can't help falling in love with her."

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Johanna’s character is written as the ancestor of John Constantine, but the delivery is essentially the female version of the chaotic DC character. While John Constantine might not play a big role in the show as he did in the comics, we won’t be missing out on the family trait of sarcasm.  

As for the gender-swapping aspect of the character, the real reason is not as political as Twitter keyboard warriors claim. In fact, Neil Gaiman’s reasoning is pretty logical for the storytelling quality of the show. 

To Slash Film, Gaiman explained that it was the “economy of filmmaking” that inspired the decision. Back when The Sandman comics first released in 1989, Gaiman included Constantine in his story to bring in his readers to the Dream realm. It was rightfully assumed that any DC Comics readers would go into The Sandman comics knowing who Constantine was. The same can’t be said for the show. 

Netflix viewers aren’t limited to comic fans, so the purpose of reshaping the Constantine character was so that anyone who started the show would think, “'You are starting here. This is the first place. You are not expected to have brought any knowledge with you.” 

Gaiman explained that Johanna was the right choice to replace John as he’d already written her story in the comics. A character completely from his imagination, Johanna gave Gaiman the creative control that John, a DC-owned character, couldn’t provide. And on the practical side, it would do away with the complicated continuity issues in the DCEU as John Constantine had already been played by Keanu Reeves in the 2005 movie and Matt Ryan in the 2014 show.

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With Gaiman’s blessing, Johanna Constantine is a role we have no need to worry about. 

The Sandman premieres on August 5 only on Netflix.

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Anri Ichimura
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