We all have our fandoms; for example, I am a hardcore DC Extended Universe (DCEU) fan and love every one of their movies. However, the one thing that always seems to be missing from fandom culture is the ability to criticize and examine one’s fandom, and we’ve seen this throughout multiple fandoms, not just comic book fandoms. What is not missing from comic book fandoms are gatekeepers.
Gatekeepers are individuals who believe there are certain requirements before you can call yourself a true fan of the fandom. Gatekeepers are in every fandom, but comic book fandoms have extreme gatekeepers who are self-appointed. These individuals take it upon themselves to decide who or what is appropriate for the community. This phenomenon is found in every fandom and are usually a loud minority. Minority or not, their loudness has power and weight to influence the entire fandom and the perception of the fandom to outsiders.
The gatekeepers of these fandoms not only discourage thoughtful critical discourse but also vilify the idea of a conversation happening. This alone threatens the existence of intersectionality in these fandoms. This has led me to believe that there are individuals in fandoms that only care about diversity and inclusion when their favorite company is leading the way. This is why it is imperative that we understand what intersectionality is and how this concept can enhance the fandom.
Why Intersectionality Matters
Understand this first: intersectionality does not hurt your fandom, and it does not mean that you have switched fandoms. What intersectionality does mean is that you appreciate any and every accurate form of representation and diversity. Intersectionality is not only applauding and promoting minority representation when it pertains to your fandom or race.
Yes, 2018 was amazing for people of color when it comes to representation; Black Panther became the best-selling solo-superhero film, Into the Spider-Verse, has broken box office records, and Aquaman became DC’s highest grossing film. But along with that tremendous success, comes the ignorance that hurts intersectionality.
What a number of people misconstrue is what the term intersectionality means. Intersectionality is the acknowledgment that within groups of people with a common identity; whether it be gender, sexuality, religion, or race, there exist intragroup differences. Intersectionality is not just realizing that we all have differences—intersectionality is celebrating them without exploiting them, it’s promoting them not ignoring them, it’s listening and not hearing. Acknowledging the diversity is that first step, but putting those steps to use is where the real work comes in. This requires close examination of one’s fandom which is hard to do sometimes and sometimes you’re forced to. This was a vague idea to me until February of 2018 when Marvel released Black Panther.
When Black Panther premiered there was a remarkable amount of praise. However, there was also an unusual amount of criticism with racist undertones. Black Panther, in general, is a diverse film, as this is the first time we’ve seen so many Black superheroes together on one screen, while also highlighting African culture. But for some reason, people attacked the movie viciously.
Many takes ignored the existence of the African diaspora and how the movie is a milestone for Black audiences, nerd and non-nerd alike. Danai Gurira is Zimbabwean-American, Lupita Nyong’o is Kenyan-Mexican, Winston Duke is Tobagonian, and Daniel Kaluuya is Ugandan. Because of the diversity of the film, this erasure of the African Diaspora is insulting to the Black community in general.
Ten months after the release of Black Panther, DC released Aquaman starring Jason Momoa and directed by James Wan, who successfully weaved Polynesian culture into the film. Aquaman’s tattoos and armor are influenced by Hawaiian culture, from the shark teeth on his upper arm gear to revere the deity Ka-moho-aliʻi :
To his body tattoos:
Momoa states that the tattoos on his torso are nods to his “Aumakua,” or family god. In Hawaiian mythology, an Aumakura is an ancestor who has died but protects their family in the afterlife. Momoa also states that because his family guardian is a shark, Aquaman’s tattoo reflects this aspect of his culture.
Jason Momoa and his on-screen father Temuera Morrison also performed a Haka at the premiere. Hakas are traditional ceremonial dances from Māorian culture. What was most surprising to me was the backlash that Jason Mamoa received for wanting to express his culture—MCU fans and many African-American Black Panther fans alluded that Momoa and DC were colluding to steal from Black Panther.
This ludicrous accusation not only erases Polynesian culture but pits minorities against each other instead of celebrating the diversity that the movie presents. Along with this, several fans have downplayed the importance of this movie to Hawaiians and the diversity it brings to the comic-book movie genre.
Into The Spider-Verse
Into the Spider-Verse was a spectacle to witness in 2018. The movie not only featured animated superhero films in a new light but also highlighted diversity as well. The film included Spider-Gwen/Spider-Woman along with a manga-inspired Peni with a spider-robot. Regardless of the praise, some Into the Spider-Verse fans fingered accused Aquaman of being the reason the film did not garner extreme box office success. This notion ignores the fact that this was an animated movie and the success it has received—Into the Spider-Verse won Best Animated Feature at Golden Globes and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Into the Spiderverse deserves better, as this is the first Afro-Latino superhero in theaters. The movie means the world to Afro-Latinos because they are often discounted and ignored. Into the Spider-Verse is infused with Latino culture something that many Afro-Latinos have been waiting for. For example, Miles’ mother frequently speaks Spanish to him throughout the film and even Miles’ second-generation accent is on display.
I will be the first to admit, it is not easy to relinquish the idea of fandom loyalty and it is even harder to convince others in your fandom to pose a different perspective. The job becomes even harder when you are aware that there are external forces outside of fandoms that help fuel problematic behavior. Columnist, writers, bloggers, and social media influencers play a key hand in how different companies are viewed due to perceived biases. Given this, it is hard for some community members to shed their own perceived biases when the media perpetuate biases themselves. I do not mean to bring up these external factors as an excuse for problematic behavior in fandoms; however, it is crucial to understand how these external factors perpetuate these issues to a higher degree.
So where does that leave us comic-book fans? In limbo, destined to repeat the same toxic behavior that we call members of a different fandom out on. You do not have to be a DCEU fan to celebrate Polynesian culture in Aquaman, and you do not have to be an MCU fan to praise Black Panther’s portrayal of the African-Diaspora, you do not have to be a fan of Spider-Man to applaud Into the Spider-Verse for giving Afro-Latinos exposure. The only thing you can do is urge your fandom to celebrate every accurate source of diversity and inclusion. However, I do believe that we are moving to a better place in 2019, but only if we all participate. I am vowing for the rest of 2019 to celebrate any form of diversity and inclusion in every fandom. The question is can you make and keep that vow as well?