Fangirls United

I think anyone that’s a fan of any women of color characters on television has had to suffer through plenty of racism and misogynoir in the fandoms.  I know I have.  So much so that I’ve actually left fandoms because the hate and ugliness got so out of hand that it was no longer enjoyable.  In fact, it’s become such a routine part of belonging to a fandom now that more and more television shows are casting women of color leads that defense squads for these characters (and unfortunately, for the actresses that portray them) are usually needed before a show even airs.

That’s why I was delighted to read the Black Enterprise article titled “The Power of Black Women in Fandom.”  It was like someone reached into my head and put into words everything I’ve been thinking and feeling for years.

The article hit a lot of important points, including the many different ways in which black women participate in fandoms, such as voting in polls and being visible on social media to help support and promote their favorite shows and characters.

I don’t watch a lot of live television, but for the shows that  I do watch live, I make sure to live-tweet to show my support.  I also make sure to pay close attention to my timeline and the people that I follow so that when hashtags like #WhereIsAbbieMills and #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter kick off, I can help lend my “voice” to the cause.

And then there’s the completely irrational hate that’s directed towards a lot of these characters.  As the article so eloquently states:

Any black female fan of a show that isn’t considered “a black show” by the industry, learns quickly that when a character exists that’s intended to represent “our demographic”, the fandom will find any reason they can to hate her. They’ll write long screeds about how her mere presence ruins the show, and they’ll call for her to be killed off. If this character is a lead, the abuse intensifies.

That ugly, hateful behavior is what has made me abandon fandoms on more than one occasion.  Perusing the tags on Tumblr and Twitter are fun at first, but then the hate starts to sneak in, going from covert to overt in conjunction with the character’s screen time and proximity to the (usually white) male lead.  It’s like clockwork.

Fandoms are supposed to be fun.  This is entertainment after all.  Fiction.  A form of escapism.  But once the fun has disappeared, what else is left except anger, bitterness and a whole lot of unnecessary stress?  Only you can decide if it’s worth it, but one thing is certain:  Women of color should be able to fangirl over our favorite characters and ships without having to constantly defend ourselves or them against racism and misogynoir.  Real life  is hard enough.

3 thoughts on “Fangirls United

  1. I never experienced this until I became a fan of Detective Carter on Person of Interest, then I got it in the face with both barrels. The same people who would ship John Reese with any random white girl who wandered through the scene, or in a slash relationship with the other white male lead,  would post long screeds about how romance would ruin the show whenever the Careese ship was mentioned.

    Now that Carter is dead (the only major character killed so far is the black woman) Carter fans are constantly told to “Get over it,” while the fans of the minor white characters who have been killed of are allowed to tlak about how much they miss thier favorites without comment. One Facebook page dedicated to the show even tried to have a separate Carter section, and disallowed all Carter posts from the main page. No, they didn’t try this with any of the white characters! We managed to get that showdown, but any posts about Carter draw trolls and the admins are OK with that. God help you if you troll a thread about one their favorites though.

    I stick with the fandom mostly as gadfly now.  They want to stick Carter in the closet and forget about her, but there are few of us who are not going to let that happen. It does get tiring though. Of course now that Taraji is the hottest thing on TV, the previous haters now love her, hoping POI can ride her coattails to another season. It’s not working.

    Needless to say, being a Carter fan has been an eye opening experience for me. But I’m glad it happened, I’ve made some awesome friends, and helped to get this site up and running.

  2. The first time I experienced it was during an arch on General hospital way back in the late 60’s if I remember right(if someone else remember it righter then me pls let me know when it was if you rememberit also).  First I thouoght they were brave because they had a black woman doctor on.  Then she had a WM patient who fell in love with her.  I actually started watching it because I want to see how it was gonna go with that relationship.  Of course first they made it sort of ok because he was blind.  But in the end they killed him off.  Fans weren’t happy about the pairing so it was short lived.

    As a fan of tv and a WOC myself I still await the day when a BF and a WM of about equal standing/strength/character or at least an interesting dynamic like Reese and Carter can find each other in love and have a stable relationship without all of the hate.  One of the reasons I liked POI so was because Carter was a moral character with human foibles but someone that was working to help people before she hooked up with TM.  She was a whole person without them and would continue to be who she was if they left her life.  But the haters complained about that too.  She was boring and noto interesting.  You know they would have been on at least the tail gate of the band wagon if she had been the sterotypical prostitute or drug addict that TM saved.

    That unscripted kiss in the morgue between Reese and Carter really reminded me of how far things on TV for swirl couples hasn’t come from the 60’s and before.  William Shatner had to do something similar to get the first interracial kiss on film between him and Ms. Nicoles.  Looks like with fight still rages.

  3. I first became cognizant of this issue back in the 1980s with the show, “As the World Turns.”  The white female fanbase lost their minds when Jessica, a black lawyer, married Duncan, a white and rich Scottish socialite, after he grieved over the death of the much-loved Shannon.  Since no one really ‘dies’ in soap operaland, Shannon returned and fully expected Duncan to leave his wife and daughter for her.  Fans of the show expected the same, as did the actions of the other characters.  Duncan complied.  I remember being annoyed, but since the show spent far more time developing the Shannon/Duncan relationship over the Jessica/Duncan pairing, I really didn’t care all that much, and my friends and I didn’t discuss the matter in school.  And besides, we were all too happy with the Jessie/Angie pairing on “All My Children.”

    Over the years I became frustrated with the limited characterizations of black female characters – Sexy Jezebel, Sassy (and usually overweight) Sapphire, Mammy/Mother/Mule, and the educated, beautiful, and marginalized Best Friend. Since the internet was in its infancy, very few shows had big online fan presence, so I had few friends with whom I could connect.  My annoyance came to a head about 10 years ago with the programs, Bones, Battlestar Galactica, and Heroes.  In each case, the black female characters were completely dismissed in some way.  On Hereos, showrunners did very little with the character, Monica Dawson, “The Mimic.”  And don’t get me started on the fact that these same showrunners cast Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek’s original Uhura), and then did NOTHING with her character.  I’ve never been more furious with a television program in my life.  Why cast Nichols and leave her hanging?  Meanwhile, on the other two shows, the black female characters, Dr. Camille Saroyan (Cam), and Lt. Anastasia Dualla (Dee), were on the FOREVER LOSING end of romantic triangles with white women over the male lead – Cam/Booth/Brennan and Dee/Lee/Starbuck.  Dee committed suicide and Cam ended up so marginalized from the main storyline that she is just an appendix.  Dealing with the online fanbases of all of these shows was an harrowing experience.  The attitudes toward the black women was just atrocious – “She’s not as smart as she thinks she is.” / “I don’t feel that the actress really embodies the character.” / “She has really thick lips.” / “I hate her hair.” / “I don’t understand why the got old Uhura anyway. She adds nothing to the show and takes up space.”  Those were the tame statements.

    Talking to other black women did not help because there were too many who were just happy that we were represented on television. They were not too concerned about the quality of that representation, but rather, more concerned about keeping the actresses employed. They were in complete denial.

    In my opinion, “Person of Interest” was a game changer for black women in fandoms. Killing off Joss Carter/Taraji P. Henson – and the resulting anger –  put all black women, if not on the same page, then in the same book about what happens to our image on television – and picked up a lot of fans from other ethnic groups who were only too shocked at how the fanbase treated  Henson/Carter.  The bullsh*t could not be denied.  Considering that POI went from a Top 10 show to being reduced to 13 episodes because of low ratings, the majority of the fandom was not happy.

    It’s incredible to me that the cheerleaders of the POI fandom decry our refusal to watch the show and participate in online by polls in support of POI by saying all sorts of ridiculous statements.  “You’re not true fans of the show.” / “You’re mean.” / “If this is how you feel about it, just go away.”

    I have two responses to those statements.  One, I am not required to remain loyal when my image is spit upon constantly.  Two, I have every right to b*tch, withdraw my support, write essays, and join forces with others in our dissatisfaction about what we watch.  Show runners have every right to tell the story the way they want.  They cannot dictate how the audiences receive their work.  They cannot tell me how to respond to their output.

    I also believe that the POI situation galvanized the “Sleepy Hollow” fans to such an amazing extent that they nearly took down the entire show when Nichole Baharie/Abbie Mills was excluded from the main storyline in favor of  the Katrina character.  As someone who stopped watching after the third episode of Season 1 because I did not want to watch “The Sidelining of Abbie Mills,” the fight was something to watch.  WOW – deep bow of respect.  We’ll see how Season 3 goes…

    Finally, the POI and Sleepy Hollow situations demonstrates that as black women, we do have the power to bring about the change we want to see in terms of how we are characterized on television.  We don’t have to stay quiet.  Simply putting a black actress in a role won’t be enough to draw and/or keep us as viewers if ultimately she’s going to be stereotyped, marginalized, or killed off.

     

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