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What Fans Did To ‘Sandman’ Actor Vanesu Samunyai Breaks My Heart

Vanesu Samunyai as Rose Walker in The Sandman, looking over her should at the camera against a grey background.

Netflix’s The Sandman, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved graphic novel series, was a cultural phenomenon when it aired in 2022. Season 1 adapted the first two volumes of the series, including volume 2, The Doll’s House. In this story, a woman named Rose Walker launches a search for her long-lost brother—and discovers that she’s a living dream vortex, capable of destroying the Dreaming.

Rose was the first major role for actor Venesu Samunyai. Samunyai should have been ecstatic at landing—and nailing—such a great role, but instead, the experience was traumatic.

Samunyai shared what happened after The Sandman premiered in a recent interview with Swirlywords.

Initially I was going to watch the show after the premiere, but I made the mistake of going online and reading everyone’s opinions of me. I clamped up and numbed out after that. I mentally blocked out the whole experience as if it never happened—to protect myself. I didn’t watch myself back. As a “people pleaser,” seeing that disapproval made me feel like I’d done something wrong, and I felt so shameful. I was in a dark hole for months, just feeling like I’d failed, and feeling guilty for failing.

As a woman writing on the internet, Samunyai’s struggles were instantly familiar to me. I’ll keep this brief to avoid making her story about me, but whenever something I’ve written takes off, my very first reaction is fear—fear of all the antisemites and misogynists who come out of the woodwork to harass me. And as bad as the problem is for me, it’s infinitely worse for my colleagues who are women of color.

Samunyai’s situation also reminds me of the harassment that Kelly Marie Tran faced after she played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Tran had to shut down her social media accounts because of all the racist and misogynist hate she experienced, and she told The Hollywood Reporter that the experience made her decide to stop acting for awhile.

Seeing your art succeed should be a joyful, celebratory experience, but the racists and misogynists on the internet are ruining it for far too many artists. It’s tragic that this was Samunyai’s experience with her very first major role. We can’t turn back time, but we can hope that the next time her talent lands her success, she can bask in the recognition she deserves.

(Via Swirlywords, featured image: Netflix)

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Julia Glassman (she/they) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at