The background of a protagonist can be the life’s blood of the entire story arc.
The background of a protagonist can be the life’s blood of the entire story arc. For Shadow Moon of American Gods, played by actor Ricky Whittle, his Afrocentricity was largely superficial in the first season, though there was the occasional allusion to his pedigree from episode to episode.
However, in season 2 of the popular Starz series about the nature of belief, reality, and magic, Moon’s character arc seems to be bending discernibly toward blackness almost from the very beginning.
During episode 2 of season 2, titled the Beguiling Man, Shadow Moon’s life story is torn from him in a traumatic and invasive interrogation carried out by the modern rendition of Argus, we see Shadow Moon as he was when he first arrived in America with his mother, who is African American and played wonderfully by Olunike Adeliyi.
Why is this portion so black? Well, aside from it being incredibly rare to behold in a TV setting, the relationship between young Shadow and his mother is endearing and intimate, which most definitely opened my eyes.
Although Shadow is just a skinny kid from France in his mid-teens when arrives in America, he is seen as something of an abomination when he first walks through “the hood” in search of friendship and camaraderie. His naive demeanor, if not his light-skin, make him an immediate target of the less friendly elements of the neighborhood. His overtures of friendship are thrust back down his throat by feet and fists.
As he runs, the police grab him, slam him against a wall and arrest him. He, feeling like the victim, is disheartened. Afterwards, his mother comforts him in a very familiar manner. A manner that places blame on no one figure, but makes an attempt at extending understanding towards all involved.
As a black male who grew up amid and through similar situations while searching for a place in the world, that entire story thread rang with sincerity.
Indeed, an individual who is familiar with how important black mothers are to raising black boys into men, as our first nurturer, first teacher, first healer, and first defender, had to have great input in creating a character who could have easily been cookie-cutter black, rather than discernibly and sincerely so.
Ricky literally had the blackness beat into him. Admittedly, trauma as a catalyst in any story arc is as old as storytelling itself. And, for that reason, many shun this method of storytelling. But said trauma IS necessary in this instance, one in which the storytellers are trying to impart the intestinal fortitude of the dude we’re cheering for, or against.
On the surface throughout much of the first season, the character Shadow Moon seemed rather unexceptional as a protagonist, although I had been enthralled by the concept of American Gods from the very beginning. However, by steadily wrapping him in a sincere, realistic and culturally relevant backstory, Shadow Moon gets increasingly interesting as a protagonist and hero with each passing episode.