Up until now, Yetide Badaki’s Bilquis has played an ambiguous role in American Gods. She’s the Goddess of Love but has been decidedly absent from the main story. The original story itself is one centered around many of the male characters in the story, but Bilquis has been populating the adverts for the show and creating an atmosphere of mystique with her character.
When it came to adapting the novel, showrunner Bryan Fuller emphasized, “Originally, it felt like without expanding [the female roles] it became sort of a sausage party.” We already know and have seen that the role of Laura Moon has been expanded upon, and now, after that season finale we can see Bilquis’ role in the war of the gods a little clearer.
We caught up with Yetide Badaki at a press junket to talk about her role in this project and embodying the goddess.
A self-professed nerd, Badaki was one of the few of the cast to have not only read American Gods beforehand but was a huge Neil Gaiman fan from the start. “I love pretty much anything sci-fi, fantasy,” she revealed, “I mean my first crushes were Data and Captain Picard. I’d read the book when it came out in 2001, it didn’t even occur to me that years later I would get to play in that sandbox.”
“I’m kind of jealous of people who haven’t read the book,” she confessed. For Badaki, the tv show is the perfect companion piece to the novel. “When you read the book, there were these hallways you went down, there were certain doorways that you were like ‘I wonder what’s going on,’ and you get to explore that a little bit more in the show.” This is the case for many of the characters in the novel, who not only get a vignette of their story but also end up being tied into the war between the new gods and the old.
For Bilquis, it’s about more than just the war between the gods, its about simple survival. In “Come To Jesus” we see her character go through several millennia of civilization only to continuously be brought down by the men in the world, the story told to us by Orlando Jones’ Mr. Nancy. “It’s funny one of the things about American Godss is that you’re seeing all these extraordinary beings just trying to survive ordinary circumstances.”
And we see just how desperate Bilquis becomes when she is finally found by Technical Boy on the street. Like many of the domains once ruled by the old gods, nearly everything has been digitized and integrated into new technology. Love is no exception. We see Technical Boy show her a version of Tinder and offer her this in exchange for her alliance on their side. “In playing the goddess of love, it became so much about connection and how in this day and age we are really struggling with [intimacy]. Just, basic connection. So, that’s how I found my in, into this character, into the goddess of love,” Badaki says, relating to Bilquis’ new form of worship.
For many, listening to Mr. Nancy’s narration of Bilquis’ story isn’t wholly unfamiliar. It rings true of many women who are in power and how their power seems to threaten men in their world into viewing them as a threat. For the creators, this feeling was compounded when screening the finale for the first time the day after the Presidential Election of 2016. “There’s a line in the finale which opens with Bilquis’ coming to America story and essentially… there’s no shortage of the horrible lengths that men will go through to take down a woman of power. And, fuck, that was depressing to see that November day,” said Fuller. “It was a relevant social issue that we were painfully aware of,” he continued but emphasized that it was not a comment on where they would go in the future.
Co-showrunner Michael Green agreed, saying, “It is especially sad to see that we were telling the story of a four-thousand-year-old god that was taken down four thousand years ago, and again in the 1970s, and then another female god who was taken down two thousand years ago, and feel it being replayed on the news everywhere.”
It’s a difficult and tragic story, but Badaki has taken to it superbly, saying, “That was amazing to play [her coming to America story] in itself. American Gods being an immigration story, I love how Michael and Bryan have done that with all of the coming to America stories, with all these different gods being brought by their worshippers and all these different threads that are being brought in to make this tapestry that is the United States.”
“Coming across Bilquis, my mind was blown. I had never seen anything like that before. Never experienced anything like that before,” she explained, and while we have definitely only just seen more of Bilquis it’s doubtful that we’ve seen the last of her as she makes her trip to the house on the hill. It’ll be interesting to see her reaction to what Easter and Wednesday have done andto see where she stands when she is also given free reign of her power outside of a dating app.
American Gods has already been given the green light for a second season, so we know there will be more, so we’re keeping our eyes open for more of this and more of Bilquis in the coming year!