Content note: we’re going to touch on transphobia, racism and sexism in this piece. Also, it’s a long post, FYI. Don’t let that deter you though. I’ve used some section breaks (***) to note where sections start and end and, I hope, short enough paragraphs for readability.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll have noticed that I love fandom. Fandom = all fans of something (in a broad or narrow sense); or the state or attitude of being a fan. This can be about anything – sports, fashion, celebrities, or fiction such as a certain book or television series or film.
I have an entire category of blog posts on this site devoted to it. Fandom was instrumental in my child and teenage years in providing me with a belonging space and a space for my creative ideas to expand. Through identifying with characters in specific fandoms and using them to explore different scenarios based on what happened in their stories, I felt connected.
Fandom has largely been a positive experience for me. However…we’re going to go a bit deeper than that today.
If you were to go look through the Fandom category of this blog I linked above, you’d find two posts where I list my fandoms: “Fandoms, or I’m a Fan of…” and “Fandoms, Updated“. I have a lot of them, some more obscure than others. There are nuances on that list, as I like to engage with my fandoms critically. Friends, it’s time for another update of those lists.
Almost three weeks ago, two Fandom-related events happened:
- The author of the Harry Potter series fully showed herself to be a transphobe. I discovered this on the morning of the 20th of December, AEDT.
- The latest Star Wars movie was released after great expectations. I cosplayed as Rey to watch it at the movies on the afternoon of the 20th of December.
I’m a major Harry Potter fan. It was my second fandom and one that has endured through the years. I know that it – and the fandom around it – has shaped my sense of self and how I see the world. For example, I describe myself as a Hufflepuff – loyal, hard-working, and kind. I identified strongly with Hermione and Harry in the books. I’ve spoken about this in my Fandom posts and in other posts such as Happy Birthday Harry.
However, over the past four or five years, I’ve become more aware of the uncomfortable parts of the books and fandom. See Harry Potter and the Canon-Fanon Thing for an early example. I honestly thought I’d addressed it more than this, but apparently not.
Basically: Harry’s world in the books still echoes the ‘real’ world – it’s set in a boarding school (echoes of the posh British boarding school trope), has racist undertones regarding the goblins and elves, and there is next to no representation of black or queer characters in a positive manner. Most of the representation came later, after fandom asked. (For example, if Dumbledore’s gay, which I do support, why did it have to be “hinted at” instead of mentioned?)
Also, looking at the new Fantastic Beasts movies – are the Goldstein sisters Jewish? No clue from the first movie….and the revelations about Nagini (she’s a shapeshifting Asian woman rather than a snake) turned me away from watching the second one. Also, the women in the books often don’t have the most well-rounded or fleshed out characterisations. Fandom has had to do a lot of our own exploration of these characters to “fill them in”.
We haven’t had to do as much with the male characters – though we often still do, as there are still problematic elements we want to address through exploring them. I used to think the books were “nuanced” in their character development. Now, I’m not so sure… and I feel that it’s strange that the fandom “catchphrase” is the “after all this time? Always.” line that’s taken from a conversation between Dumbledore and Snape and is actually, in context, kinda creepy.
Then there’s the author herself. Over the timeframe I mentioned above, she’s become more obvious in her biases and prejudices. (See the canon-fanon article for an example.) There have been rumours that she was a transphobe for some time, through the form of her liking things on Twitter or following certain people there, explained away by her PR team or herself. Then on the 20th December, she actually tweeted her own transphobic views and refused to back down.
I had begun to separate her from her books and the fandom for some time before that, discussing it with friends. I think it was sometime in the first half of 2018 that I made this decision, but I didn’t share it on here. Sorry about that. I think that a number of fans were hoping that she’d realise her folly at some point and back off. Or they didn’t know how to deal with the “hinted” transphobia and other concerns and wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, despite what many trans people and other minority groups were saying. Sorry about that. There can be none of that now. She’s shown herself publicly and has in fact doubled down on her comments since.
This is particularly infuriating because – as I mentioned above – for many Potter fans, the Potterverse made us feel welcome. Including trans fans. It’s upsetting to see the creator reject that. So, we reject the creator…but keep the fandom. A lot has been said about that in the past few weeks. I stand with trans and non-binary people, especially those who are fans hurt by the recent comments. I am sorry that the Harry Potter creator has said those things and I reject her premise. Trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary people are people, and so on. You are loved and valued.
As for the Star Wars movie: I’m planning to write another post after this where I get into the good and bad stuff in a bid more detail (i.e. with spoilers). For now, I will say that – as you can see from my Force Awakens post, I was really keen on where the Sequel Trilogy was going after the first movie. The ending movie? Not so much. It was an ending that gave us one version of how those threads could’ve tied together, with Last Jedi in the middle, but to be honest I’m a bit disappointed that that is the canon ending we get.
There are multiple reasons about that. Chuck Wendig, who’s written for the “new” Star Wars in the form of a tie-in book trilogy set between RotJ and TFA, has some thoughts over on his blog that I agree with a lot. I’ll expand more on that angle in the TRoS-themed spoliery blog post. What I’m going to mention today is: SW fans, we have multiple problems within our fandom.
Namely, racism and sexism. The sexism can be seen in the way some fans have interacted with Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) over the course of the films. Fans compared Rey to a Mary Sue after TFA and got really angry at Tran after TLJ – they’ve made social media engagement so toxic that both Tran and Ridley have deleted their public social media accounts (Ridley in 2016 and Tran in 2018). Tran’s role in the films has also been impacted by racism.
The racism in the Star Wars fandom is a big problem. This is present in the people working on the films (how else do you explain how Finn’s story-arc has diminished each film, as well as the disappearance of Rose, and possibly the lack of thought about Poe’s “new” backstory in TRoS?), but it’s feral in the fandom. The fans have been absolutely toxic to Finn and his actor, John Boyega. Boyega has received so much hate for daring to exist as a Star Wars actor and be black, all through the films. To quote an article on gizmodo from a couple of days ago,
” The larger point is that throughout almost the whole of his run as one of Star Wars’ central characters, Boyega—like essentially all of the actors portraying Star Wars characters who aren’t white men—has been the recipient of an inordinate amount of what seems to be outright hatred for having the audacity to simply be themselves in public spaces.”https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2020/01/john-boyegas-post-star-wars-honesty-is-a-good-thing/
A lot of that negativity passed me by – I knew it was a thing, but I’d largely grumbled then dismissed it as toxic white fanboys. In the past week, I’ve been forced to realise that there are many toxic white fangirls, too. They don’t like Finn and they don’t like John Boyega. He exists and he “gets in the way of” their ship of Rey and Kylo Ren (bleurgh). He calls them out on their shit, as well. This has been present from the beginning and throughout filming (see John Boyega tells fans to stop harrassing cast and John Boyega explains his assertive stance on toxic fandom and the article I quoted above).
A lot of what I know in detail about this has come from me reading other more-well-informed fans’ posts about the issue(s), especially in the wake of John Boyega’s comments on Twitter over NYE. Please read them. They explain things better than I ever could.
- Racism in the Star Wars fandom
- John Boyega ends 2019 with a bang
- John Boyega and the case of no more damns to give
We need to ‘fess up to the dark side of Fandom – how it carries the -isms of the real world into it. We need to examine that critically and call that out. Or else we risk the enjoyment of fandom being ruined for fans who aren’t cishet white people. We need to do better.
Edited to add this last bit because I acccidentally published an earlier draft:
So, Fandom can be absolutely wonderful, when we make the stories ours. I will always be grateful for that. But we need to think critically when we do so, because our own biases get in the way of making Fandom inclusive and enjoyable for all. Otherwise, participating in Fandom can suck.