This past January, Spartacus: Blood and Sand premiered on the Starz network to much hype and expectation, and in a truly shocking twist, it actually delivered.
The show almost immediately gained a cult following which soon became legion, an army of fans who just couldn’t get enough of the adventures in the ancient gladiator training camp. While many critics turned their noses up at the excessive gore and violence (not to mention the generous helpings of full-frontal nudity and sex scenes), websites across the blogosphere began to pop up, honoring the new series. That Spartacus was a hit, there can be no doubt.
On its surface, Spartacus was the ultimate guys’-guy show. Each episode seemed to be injected with a superdose of testosterone, and with each limb that was excised from a body, the fans became more and more bloodthirsty. The thirteen-episode first season culminated in what has to be one of the most shocking, blood-soaked climaxes in the history of television, in which Spartacus and his fellow slaves rebel and lay waste to an entire houseful of Roman citizens, brutally murdering men, women, and children.
Just as the network promised, Spartacus pushed the envelope farther than any show that had come before it.
But it did even more than expand the limits of violence and nudity on television. It accomplished a much higher goal, and it did this — if you can believe it — subtly.
Spartacus is the first of its kind: a guys’ show that is inclusive of women, minorities, and gay and bisexual characters, without ever calling attention to itself for this fact. It never pats itself on the back for being forward-thinking. There was never a “very special” episode of Spartacus that dealt with a character’s sexual identity, or a story in which they learn that beyond our skin color, we’re all really the same.
Spartacus just assumed this to be true, and in a rare display, it respected its audience enough to assume they would be on the same page.
So were they?
Most of them were. But not all, of course. Recently, series showrunner Steven S. Deknight spoke to TheTorchOnline.com writer Michael Jensen about the show’s two most significant gay characters, Barca and Pietros, who were killed halfway though the first season.
MJ: You’ve had some time since the season ended and people reacted to what happened with Barca and Pietros. Has any of the negative reactions changed how you write gay characters? Do you feel like you’re more aware of the issues than you were before?
SD: It still comes down to the story and what works best for the characters. The only time I had a reaction to anything that’s said, is every once in a while I’ll come across a comment on the Facebook site or the official site, and I’m sure all your readers have read similar things, where someone will say—usually a guy—”I love the show but can you cut out all the gay shit.” That’s the only thing that will trigger a violently negative response from me.
For me, and I think Rob too, it’s even more reason to continue including that in the story until people come to accept it. I don’t understand how you can watch Season 1 and fixate on that, especially when I think the Barca/Pietros storyline was beautiful and tragic. I was very heartened that even people who were a little uncomfortable with the gay content, when Barca got killed, they were very upset and very moved, which I think is a step in the right direction.
MJ: And a testament to the storytelling and the acting. You guys were able to overcome that internalized prejudice people have. Now, the show obviously had a lot of female nudity, but it had more male nudity than any show I’ve ever seen. It was very homoerotic, yet clearly it was a smash success. The show was hugely popular. Did you expect more negative reaction or less?
SD: I’m honestly always surprised by negative reactions to sexual content, language content, I was even surprised by some of the negative reaction to the violence in the show. For me, I look at shows at being entertaining and hopefully moving, but first and foremost our job is to entertain. I look at the show as something I would love to watch even if I wasn’t working on it. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I live inand things are a little bit different here, as they are in any big city. I’m always shocked when other people are shocked.
There are moments in the show where I’m like, “Oh, alright. I understand you being shocked when Segovax is castrated.” I mean, I cringed myself. At the end of the day, the important thing for us is we’re not actively trying to promote any single agenda. Everything comes together because we’re just trying to tell the best story we can, and if there’s a little bit of social activism in there, all the better.
Deknight casually makes a reference to social activism as an almost incidental side effect of their storytelling, but that is where the show is truly remarkable. That the show could be considered progressive is not a statement they’re attempting to make. It just is.
As stated above, the show has its share of gay and bisexual characters, and there are more to come in the coming seasons. Both Barca and Pietros were also people of color, as are other prominent characters like Doctore and Naevia. And speaking of Naevia, she was one of a batch of strong, resourceful women showcased on the show, in such company as Lucretia, Illyithia, and Mira.
Spartacus is an action show for the 21st century, truly the first of its kind. It is a landmark series and should be applauded for that fact. Of course, in a perfect world, such inclusion wouldn’t be newsworthy. But until we reach that day, it’s a good thing we have shows like Spartacus.
- SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND Season Review: How Awesome Was This Show?!
- Spartacus Loses the Loincloth
- Sex and Violence in SPARTACUS Will Be Unlike Anything on TV
- SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND Episode Review (1-6): Did That Just Happen?!
- SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND Episode Review (1-8): Things are Gettin’ Real